The future of Altamont Theatre in Asheville: more short term rentals

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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The owners of the downtown Asheville building that’s home to the Altamont Theatre music venue confirm that their plans for building are to turn it completely over to short term vacation rental space.

In a written statement issued over the weekend, Brian and Tiffany Lee explain the history of their involvement with the building, which included the major renovation of beautiful building in 2010. The renovation including the creation of a black box theater at ground level and the construction of short term vacation rental space above.

Last week, the owners of the music venue business, which started three years ago after the Lees ended their run with the theater space, announced that the Altamont Theatre would be closing at the end of year because the Lees would be pursuing a new use for the space.

The Lees say in their statement that they’re “not​ ​cynically​ ​closing something​ ​we​ ​created​ ​to​ ​cash​ ​in​ ​on​ ​a​ ​new​ ​and​ ​popular​ ​business,​ ​although​ ​the​ ​change​ ​has​ ​been painted​ ​that​ ​way.​” They note that the ​short term​ ​rental​ ​business​ ​has​ ​carried​ ​the​ ​building​ ​financially since their renovation of the building.

But the closure of the theater and the Lees decision to go all-in on short term rentals comes at a time when the issue of short term rentals, especially driven by property owners’ participation in Airbnb, continues to boil around Asheville. Asheville City Council over the past couple years has moved on various fronts. It cracked down on illegal Airbnb operators by increasing the enforcement of the city’s ban on short-term rentals and increasing fines and enforcement. (Renters have to have property city permits. Short-term rentals are defined as houses rented out for overnight stays for fewer than 30 days, where the owner is not staying in the home. Short-term rentals are allowed in commercially zoned areas of the city, like the central business district, but illegal in most other parts, including residentially zoned areas.)

City Council also decided against allowing accessory dwelling units (out-buildings and garages) to be rented out to tourists.

Finally, City Council eased rules on allowing locals residents to rent part of their home to visitors if the owner is present and has the right permits, something that’s termed a “homestay.

Here’s the statement from the Lees in full:

Contrary​ ​to​ ​the​ ​false​ ​implications​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Press​ ​Release​ ​issued​ ​by​ ​the​ ​current​ ​operators​ ​of​ ​the Altamont​ ​Theatre,​ ​the​ ​structure​ ​at​ ​18​ ​Church​ ​Street​ ​is​ ​​not​​ ​being​ ​razed.​ ​​​In​ ​fact,​ ​in​ ​2010​ ​we completed​ ​a​ ​full​ ​renovation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​building​ ​from​ ​its​ ​abysmal​ ​condition,​ ​which​ ​included​ ​a​ ​nearly collapsing​ ​roof.​ ​​ The​ ​project​ ​was​ ​a​ ​green​ ​renovation​ ​and​ ​qualified​ ​for​ ​LEED​ ​Silver​ ​designation. Those​ ​changes​, ​including​ ​rooftop​ ​solar​ ​panels​ ​for​ ​hot​ ​water,​ ​are​ ​not​ ​obvious​ ​because​ ​we​ ​worked hard​ ​to​ ​preserve​ ​the​ ​historic​ ​character​ ​of​ ​the​ ​building. Our​ ​renovation​ ​included​ ​building​ ​out​ ​the​ ​first​ ​floor​ ​as​ ​a​ ​black-box​ ​theatre.​ ​​

While​ ​searching​ ​for​ ​a name,​ ​Tiffany’s​ ​father,​ ​an​ ​Asheville​ ​native​ ​and​ ​lover​ ​of​ ​literature,​ ​suggested​ ​the​ ​name​ ​Altamont, for​ ​the​ ​fictitious​ ​name​ ​Thomas​ ​Wolfe​ ​gave​ ​to​ ​Asheville​ ​in​ ​his​ ​novel​ L​​ook​ ​Homeward​ ​Angel. Sadly​ ​her​ ​father​ ​passed​ ​away​ ​not​ ​very​ ​long​ ​after​ ​that​ ​and​ ​never​ ​saw​ ​the​ ​renovation​ ​completed. This​ ​structure​ ​is​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​us,​ ​and​ ​has​ ​played​ ​a​ ​significant​ ​role​ ​in​ ​our​ ​lives.​ ​​ ​

The​ ​statement​ ​we made​ ​by​ ​combining​ ​new​ ​technology​ ​and​ ​efficient​ ​resource​ ​usage​ ​while​ ​preserving​ ​the​ ​historic character​ ​of​ ​the​ ​building​ ​reflects​ ​our​ ​core​ ​values.​​​ ​We​ ​not​ ​only​ ​put​ ​money​ ​into​ ​this​ ​project,​ ​but we​ ​poured​ ​our​ ​hearts​ ​and​ ​souls​ ​into​ ​it.​ ​​The​ ​current​ ​controversy​ ​speaks​ ​to​ ​the​ ​work​ ​we​ ​did because​ ​it​ ​appears​ ​a​ ​number​ ​of​ ​people​ ​are​ ​unaware​ ​of​ ​the​ ​renovation​ ​we​ ​undertook.​ ​ ​It​ ​looks like​ ​an​ ​interesting​ ​old​ ​building.

The​ ​renovation​ ​yielded​ ​not​ ​only​ ​our​ ​primary​ ​goal,​ ​the​ ​theatre,​ ​but​ ​a​ ​nice​ ​side​ ​benefit​ ​-​ ​a​ ​way​ ​to insure​ ​the​ ​income​ ​on​ ​the​ ​building,​ ​short-term​ ​vacation​ ​rentals.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​before​ ​the​ ​advent​ ​of AirBnB​ ​and​ ​the​ ​current​ ​controversy​ ​in​ ​Asheville.​​​ ​We​ ​had​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​only​ ​units​ ​downtown​ ​for​ ​a long​ ​time.​ ​​​We​ ​designed​ ​the​ ​rental​ ​units​ ​with​ ​that​ ​in​ ​mind​ ​and​ ​they​ ​are​ ​geared​ ​towards​ ​that.​ ​​So we​ ​have​ ​quietly​ ​been​ ​operating​ ​that​ ​business​ ​for​ ​nearly​ ​seven​ ​years. Now​ ​in​ ​2017​ ​we​ ​must​ ​make​ ​the​ ​difficult​ ​and​ ​somewhat​ ​personal​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​part​ ​of​ ​what we​ ​created​ ​to​ ​an​ ​end.​ ​​The​ ​theatre​ ​holds​ ​great​ ​sentimental​ ​value​ ​for​ ​us​ ​and​ ​converting​ ​the space​ ​is​ ​most​ ​certainly​ ​an​ ​emotional​ ​decision.​ ​​

Sadly​ ​the​ ​process​ ​of​ ​ending​ ​the​ ​theatre​ ​space we​ ​created​ ​is​ ​being​ ​mired​ ​in​ ​controversy. We​ ​recognize​ ​that​ ​the​ ​short​ term​ ​rental​ ​issue​ ​in​ ​Asheville​ ​is​ ​controversial​ ​and​ ​complex. Ultimately​ ​it​ ​falls​ ​to​ ​City​ ​Council​ ​to​ ​find​ ​a​ ​compromise​ ​and​ ​workable​ ​solution​ ​for​ ​all​ ​the​ ​various points​ ​of​ ​view​ ​around​ ​this​ ​contentious​ ​issue.​ ​​ ​In​ ​our​ ​case,​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​cynically​ ​closing something​ ​we​ ​created​ ​to​ ​cash​ ​in​ ​on​ ​a​ ​new​ ​and​ ​popular​ ​business,​ ​although​ ​the​ ​change​ ​has​ ​been painted​ ​that​ ​way.​ ​​The​ ​original​ ​renovation​ ​was​ ​a​ ​significant​ ​investment.​ ​​​Since​ ​then​ ​the​ ​short term​ ​rental​ ​business​ ​has​ ​carried​ ​the​ ​building​ ​financially.​ ​For​ ​us,​ ​the​ ​most​ ​prudent​ ​course​ ​of action​ ​is​ ​to​ ​unify​ ​the​ ​usage​ ​of​ ​the​ ​building​ ​in​ ​the​ ​most​ ​productive​ ​manner. We​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​preserve​ ​the​ ​character​ ​of​ ​this​ ​great​ ​old​ ​building​ ​and​ ​hope​ ​it​ ​remains​ ​a​ ​fixture downtown.

-Brian​ ​and​ ​Tiffany​ ​Lee

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. NFB September 27, 2017

    There is more than a little irony here since the Lee family, several years ago, lost the license for radio station WZLS to another bidder for the frequency that turned the station into a more generic (gentrified?) station. Brain Lee was program director of WZLS.

    Now, we see him pushing out unique music venue in favor of a more generic, and gentrified use.

  2. hauntedheadnc September 26, 2017

    I seem to recall that the transformation of all its living/studio space into STR space is the reason that Carolina Lane went from being so awesome, urban, and gritty, to being the soulless set piece that it is now. Am I recalling that correctly?

    Kind of makes you wonder if anyone but the old, the poor, the sick, and the mentally deranged in all the subsidized towers actually lives downtown any more, or if the property owners have just given the whole damn thing over to the tourist rentals.


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