Remodeling the 91-year-old Flatiron Building in downtown Asheville under strict guidelines for historic restoration, and changing its use from an office building to a hotel, is the best way to preserve the landmark structure. That’s the case that developer Philip Woollcott and his team will make to local residents, city planners and ultimately Asheville City Council in coming months as he seeks to do just that.
“We’ve analyzed several ways to restore the building to its original glory and give it economic vitality, and the best way to do that is with a lodging use, Woollcott said in an interview Wednesday.
Russell Thomas of Midtown Development Associates, who bought the building in 1985 for $440,000, said he, too, wants to see the building preserved and restored. He put the building up for sale earlier this year for $16 million. (He notes that he and his business partner spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on air conditioning and other upgrades after buying the building.)
From its opening in the mid-1920s onward, the Flatiron Building at 20 Battery Park Ave. has served as an office building. Today, it’s filled with a number of small businesses. But with ongoing maintenance needs, that continued use isn’t economically feasible, Thomas said.
“We don’t want to become functionally obsolete. We want to be ahead all of that,” he said.
Woollcott, an Asheville native, said he has 20 years of experience in redeveloping buildings with his Charleston-based company, JPW Development. He’s already applied for federal tax credits under the National Park Service program that makes the tax break available for the rehabilitation of historic, income-producing properties.
The rehabilitation work would be performed under that program’s exacting standards, Woollcott said, and would include: restoring the two original hand-operated elevator cabs, as well as adding a new elevator to serve all floors; updating all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; adding a sprinkler system to the building; restoring all 288 exterior windows; restoring the copper parapet; cleaning the exterior brick; and restoring the ground-floor retail window bays to its original look.
All that work can be done with a minimal amount of construction disruption, Woollcott said. The 9-story Flatiron’s original doorways and hallways will remain. The building’s well-known Sky Bar that uses a fire escape platform to offer spectacular westward-facing view of mountain sunsets, would likely be upgraded, Thomas added.
“We want to give the Flatiron the attention it deserves,” Woollcott said.
Letters alerting neighborhood property owners of a community meeting will be sent out on Oct. 19, with the meeting set for the end of October, according to Woollcott. From there, the project will go through the city’s planning bureaucracy, with a final stop before Asheville City Council.
The rest of the Flatiron project team includes: architect Jeff Dalton of Row House Architects in Asheville; Hutch Kerns of Kerns Landscape Architecture; Jerome Hay of Sud Associates and Chris Day of Civil Design Concepts on engineering, both Asheville-based companies; and Beverly-Grant Inc as the Asheville-based general contractor.
Quick historical facts on the Flatiron Building in Asheville
-The Flatiron Building is one of Asheville’s three oldest high rises – built in 1924-1925.
-The Flatiron Building was built by L.B. Jackson and Charles Malone – Jackson also developed the Jackson building (first skyscraper in Asheville built in 1922).
-Albert C. Wirth was the architect – originally from New York City but moved to Asheville in early 1920s.
-Asheville’s first radio station, WWNC, broadcast from the ninth floor (rooftop) of the Flatiron Building in 1927 – Jimmie Rodgers (one of the first major country music stars) and Bill Monroe (one of the founders of bluegrass music were first broadcast from the penthouse radio station.