Update Jan. 12: Asheville City Council is scheduled to vote today, Jan. 12, on whether to approve a conditional zoning request to allow the renovation of the city’s tallest office building into a new boutique hotel, condos and retail space. (Here’s the documentation from Asheville City Council.) It’s the biggest central downtown redevelopment project since the creation of Pack Place some 25 years ago.
So how will the vote go down? It’s unclear. There are three new City Council members on the board, including two – Keith Young and Brian Haynes – who were fairly vocal about the need to slow the development of new downtown hotels. The third new City Council member, Julie Mayfield, accepted a campaign donation from the developer, John McKibbon, then returned it.
Councilman Cecil Bothwell has voted consistently against big downtown projects such as the one proposed, while Councilman Gordon Smith has said he’ll only vote yes if the developer agrees to specific conditions, such as paying a living wage.
I have no idea where Mayor Esther Manheimer and Councilwoman Gwen Wisler stand. Tune in tonight for the vote. The meeting starts at 5 p.m.
Original post Dec. 18: Asheville City Council will vote on whether this project moves forward in January. Meantime, I’m catching up on this press release:
McKibbon Hotel Group announces several project updates for the well-known BB&T Bank building located across from downtown Asheville’s Pack Square. The project, which was unanimously approved by the Asheville Downtown Commission on Nov. 13, is being developed by John McKibbon, an Asheville homeowner whose first business venture in Asheville occurred 20 years ago, and chairman and president of Tower Associates, Glenn Wilcox, a resident of Asheville for more than 50 years. McKibbon and Wilcox are also currently building the AC Hotel and a 350-space garage with public access at the intersection of Biltmore Avenue and College Street, which is slated to open in 2016.
John McKibbon is an active member of the Asheville community by serving as a board member for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and through his involvement with a number of local non-profit organizations. In addition, McKibbon is personally collaborating with local partners to address the shortage of affordable housing in the city of Asheville. Wilcox has been an integral part of downtown Asheville’s development and is active in the community through his involvement in the Better Business Bureau of Asheville and Western North Carolina, Mission Healthcare Foundation, Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, and the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.
McKibbon Hotel Group has selected Reese Vanderbilt & Associates of Atlanta, GA, as the project architect, a design-oriented architectural firm with vast experience in hospitality, mixed-use, and residential projects. The project, which was originally announced in 2013, is making progress to begin construction when the office leases expire in early 2016.
“We will transform the 50-year old tower into a beautiful structure that adds to the great architecture of this city,” said John McKibbon. The project will boast a contemporary design that also incorporates architectural elements from surrounding buildings in downtown Asheville. Warmer tones of stone that incorporate Asheville’s existing urban fabric will replace an aging steel façade. The tower will feature decorative metal panels and a prominent mural, which will both be created by local artists. The building will receive a new exterior skin featuring a mixture of glass and solid materials. The bottom, middle and top of the tower will each incorporate materials that contrast the glass, creating defined sections that add to the building’s design. Due to the location of the tower and its visibility from all sides, architectural elements of interest will be included on all four sides of the building, not just the front.
There will be numerous improvements made to the surrounding area, which will fully maximize the potential of the site. The new site design will enhance the urban environment by creating pedestrian-friendly connectivity and activation with widened sidewalks, outdoor dining and additional retail space along College Street.
When fully open and leased, the project will have a positive economic impact on the Asheville community. McKibbon Hotel Group expects the project to employ up to 100 full-time employees whose starting wages will meet or exceed the Asheville living wage. Property taxes will also increase substantially following the building renovations and change of use.
Detailed plans for the 18-st0ry development, which include McKibbon’s first independent hotel, consist of the following:
• Restaurant, bar, and retail space for lease along Pack Square;
• Retail spaces for lease along College Street;
• Substantial modern meeting spaces, gym, and offices on the second and third floors;
• Boutique hotel guest rooms on seven floors;
• Residences on the upper floors, with adequate on-site storage for residents;
• On-site parking for residents and guests and additional parking for hotel guests at the AC Hotel parking deck, which will include public parking.
In order to align with downtown Asheville’s commitment to local businesses, the retail space included in the project will not be leased to national chains. The hotel will be an independent brand with a unique interior design and a name that incorporates Asheville’s history. McKibbon Hotel Group will announce the new name of the hotel before the end of the year. Once the hotel is open,
room rates will be in the mid-$200 range.
Following up on his calls against the exploitation of Asheville by the hotel industry, Gordon Smith today released his position on the reuse and remodel of the BB&T building for a new downtown hotel. The project will come before Asheville City Council under a “conditional zoning” process, which gives governing bodies the right to request specific conditions for approval.
Asked how the proposed adaptive reuse of the BB&T building could receive his support, Gordon said, “Living wages, preference for local businesses and local artists, contributing to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and getting on the right side of dedicating a portion of the occupancy tax to the needs of people. – These conditions are necessary to a sustainable tourism sector and to a successful hotel application. I will be requesting all four.”
Gordon was recently quoted by John Boyle in the Asheville Citizen-Times saying, “We’re angry with all these new hotels because there’s still not a commitment from the hotel industry to pay living wages, use local suppliers, and give part of the occupancy tax back for the needs of the people who live here.” Gordon went on to say, “I agree with the people of Asheville who are demanding that hoteliers put Asheville first.”
I dislike the design pretty strongly but would even be willing to accept it. I am not too keen on regulating appearance of structures at the whim of council, this is a huge wet blanket to throw on top of development. Some certainly would embrace that idea but I don’t. If the appearance of this product is inadequate then the development code should be revised to improve it.
My real beef with it is the terrible site plan.
Really what is unforgivable is that the drive through and parking lot (basically, unattractive low value temporary uses) being replaced by, essentially, a port cochere and parking deck, (basically, unattractive but expensive permanent uses). I would prefer it stay as a parking lot, since a parking deck wouldn’t probably be redeveloped for at least another 50 years.
Or, if they’re hell bent on a parking deck on the same block as the tower, and there’s nothing we can do to stop them, they should at least be required to put some retail spaces on the ground floor along Lexington Avenue. This block is a very important connection downtown. The council should make them adhere to the downtown master plan, which classifies all four block faces of the BB&T block as primary pedestrian corridors which should have active human uses along the sidewalk.
If none of this can be done, have them build the parking lot so part of it could be [i]converted[/i] to retail at a later use and have the parking deck’s foundations be built to support a real building on top.
With the downtown master plan, council should have enough leverage to send McKibbon back to the drawing board over the parking deck and I hope that they have the gumption to do it. I’m afraid that issues of design like this probably aren’t on their radar though.
I agree with this. There’s already two blocks’ worth of dead pedestrian-level space on College (back of the Biltmore office, side of the BB&T) and the AC Hotel — another McKibbon ‘parking deck with a hotel slapped on top of it’ effort — isn’t going to change that for the back-of-Biltmore block.
(It’s also a reminder that S Lexington deserves to be more than the service entrance for a bunch of Biltmore Ave buildings, which is how it often comes across. The parking lot doesn’t help there.)
The only time the public have paid attention to that parking lot space out the back of the BB&T on Lexington has been when it hosted the dogs jumping into the pool during Bele Chere.
Does there really need to be retail on the Lexington frontage when they’re already adding it to the College Street side, and when the other side of Lexington already has the pedestrian activation of the Kress Building? I mean, more retail and more engagement with the sidewalk is always better, but they’re still taking a crummy situation and leaving it better than they found it.
If you really want to improve it, how much would it cost to just lop nine floors off it? Heck, I’d chip in for that.
“At some point Asheville will stop putting its public face in the hands of dullard parking lot developers like McKibbon.”
Unfortunately that won’t be anytime soon.
“Warmer tones of stone that incorporate Asheville’s existing urban fabric will replace an aging steel façade.”
Based on the renderings, it’s going to be a painfully fake gaudy “stone-esque” cladding that will likely age even worse than the maligned BB&T’s international style exterior. But hey, there’ll be a mural.
At some point Asheville will stop putting its public face in the hands of dullard parking lot developers like McKibbon.
People whined and moaned for years about the BB&T Building’s appearance, and now the same people are gonna whine and moan about this, too. Sheesh.
And just who else is coming to rescue the BB&T Building?
Here’s how it was going to look as the Vandre Nouveau — I mean, the Luther Vandross:
Now it’s supposedly going to look like the photo at the top of this post. Give it a few more iterations, and it’ll look like the Aloft turned on its side.
But I suppose you’re right: the people with the money and influence have no imagination, and the people with imagination have no money or influence. And so downtown Asheville will get another cruddy large-scale building project.