The French Broad Food Co-op on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville has some big plans for growth and expansion, though this press release raises more questions than it answers. I’ll track ’em down. In the meantime, here’s the info at hand:
DOWNTOWN CO-OP ISSUES DEVELOPMENT RFP FOR 60-100 BLOCK OF BILTMORE AVE, OFFERS CITY OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS SEVERAL CURRENT ECONOMIC WOES
The Co-op to build bigger store on current site, seeks partners for housing, retail, offices, parking deck, public space, and a poses a radical question: Could a Co-op & City owned hotel help fund community needs? Asheville, NC,
October 28, 2015– In case you hadn’t noticed, the community owned French Broad Food Co-op is a local socioeconomic powerhouse. What began in 1975 as a group of citizens trying to source better quality foods has evolved into a growing engine of community fervor and impact, channeling $20M through Asheville in the last five years.
Notably, the Co-op became the nation’s first certified living wage grocer and became a primary sponsor of LEAF in Schools & Streets, LAAFF, and other area causes that support community. They added a hot bar, filled it with food made by GO! job training programs, and completed the cycle by sending leftover hot foods to area shelters each night. They’ve hosted urban homesteading fairs and brought chickens, rabbits, fruit trees, and classes into town. The Co-op has hosted a downtown’s farmer’s market for 18 years, added downtown’s first rooftop honeybees, sent their CEO to Capitol Hill to fight for GMO labeling, and maintained sales growth in one of the most saturated natural foods markets in the US- even after multiple big box chains opened. The Co-op has always looked to local producers and farmers first and focused on ways to get affordable foods to the public.
Getting involved means saving money on groceries, and quadrupling in size means increased opportunities for many local businesses and farms, as well as 60+ new permanent jobs, and hundreds, if not thousands, of temporary jobs during construction.
Sage Turner, Finance & Project Manager says, “This expansion is about the Co-op first. Owners want a full shopping experience, want us to remain financially strong, and want us to continue our community-building work. Our Owners are also bright and innovative folks, quickly voting mixed use and sustainability to the top of the priorities list. One Owner inspired me, saying, ‘It isn’t affordable housing if our Co-op staff can’t afford it.’ The Co-op can limit the expansion to only a larger footprint store. We’ve run the studies. We can see growth, but also limits. The conversation has become, is just a store the highest & best use? Can we do more? If we can find the right partners we can help address several economic woes. We may be Beer City and Best Destination this and that, but we are also top ten food insecure and have a .9% vacancy rate. And let’s not forget the over crowded streets, infrastructure demands, loss of revenues due to legislative changes, and the community’s desire for more public space in downtown. Everything comes down to viability. We won’t put the Co-op at risk, we’re simply saying let’s have this conversation.”
Bobby Sullivan, the General Manager of the Co-op says, “Co-ops offer a dynamic business model that nurtures authentic relationships with the local community to make sure local people have a say in how businesses develop in their city. We think we have a unique opportunity here, to anchor this side of downtown to be everything local people want for the future of Asheville.”
Cindy Visnich Weeks, VP & Director of Community Investments at Mountain Housing Opportunities says, “MHO is committed to visionary projects like this. They change the development paradigm while meeting the housing and economic development needs of our local citizens. Infill, mixed use, redevelopment projects may be more difficult to finance and construct but they are more sustainable and are always the ones we are proudest of.”
Clare Schwartz, Outreach Coordinator for the Co-op says, “It’s such an exciting time for the Co-op and the greater community of Asheville. I invite you to become an Owner & join our vision to support local, create healthy & sustainable jobs and relationships and, as our Global Ends Policy states, serve as a model of a sustainable business alternative that nurtures social and economic well-being. We’ve extended our Owner Drive through Nov 5. Come see us.”
I support affordable housing and I hate NIMBYism. But it is obvious that the people running MHO do marketing, advertising and sales in a way similar to GM with cars at an Auto Show. MHO likes to pack their pipeline full of potential low income housing tax credit projects. These tax credit projects take years to put together so MHO likes a packed full pipeline that stretches out 8-12 years if they can. You’ll see MHO’s face everywhere looking for projects, from public housing sites to the RAD to the FB co-op to Swannanoa to Waynesville to Woodfin. And just like GM fought against having Toyota and Honda grab marketshare in the US, generations ago, MHO purposely advocates the Local Only banner to keep other apt developers out of Asheville. I like Toyota/Lexus and Honda.
Why is the VP from MHO quoted in this release? Are we to infer that they are going to be partnering with the Co-Op in this development? MHO probably has their hands full right now with litigation over the bad concrete at Eagle Market Place. They are not a huge firm and don’t seem to take on more than 1~2 major projects at a time, but assuming Eagle Market Place does get sorted out, they do have a decent track record of delivering on affordable apartments (see: Larchmont and Glen Rock). If affordable housing is the Co-Op’s goal, then that’s one of probably two local developers who come to mind for a project like this.
The other one is Public Interest Projects which is also a small firm and is likely busy at the moment with the Garage Apartments behind Aloft.