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 Look 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
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.
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.