Before a small crowd of downtown residents, business owners and city officials, developer Tony Fraga laid out preliminary plans for a 14-story hotel on Battery and Page Avenues this evening.
Gathering in the downstairs level of Isa's Bistro, the attendees sipped wine and ate hors d'oeuvres while Fraga, John Tierney of Choice Hotels, and Mark Mucci of Charlotte-based Mind's Eye Architecture laid out their proposal. Vice Mayor (and mayoral candidate) Esther Manheimer and Planning Director Judy Daniel were among the officials present.
Fraga's a longtime local developer with extensive properties downtown and throughout the area, including the Westgate Shopping Center in West Asheville and the Haywood Park Hotel. A previous plan to build a 23-story condo tower and a 25-story hotel, along with several smaller structures, was withdrawn in 2008 after it failed to gain government approval due to concerns about its scale and the disruption the construction process would cause. This time he swore that the entire project fits the guidelines of the city's downtown master plan.
"A box would be very simple to do," he said. "This is a building that should be attractive to the community. That's my vision."
The proposed hotel — "my legacy" he called it more than once — is a 100,000 square foot terraced building on the intersection of Battery Park and Page Avenues, currently the former location of Kostas Menswear, a Subway restaurant and a parking lot. The building would have 141 rooms, as well as eight living units (including one for Fraga and his family), conference space, and 145 parking spaces. He also claimed it will bring in about 100 jobs and $28 million into the economy. He couldn't promise no disruption to surrounding businesses, but said he planned to use Westgate's space to help mitigate the effects of staging the construction.
Tierney said that while his company was mostly known for its mid-scale hotels, like Comfort Inn, the proposed Cambria Suites will be a more upscale development.
"We know about Asheville. The senior vice president owns a home here, so it's very near and dear to his heart," Tierney said, adding that the company's founder also owns a home in the area. "It's a project that's gotten a lot of attention internally, and it's one we're very proud of and hope to move forward with."
Some of the audience expressed support for Fraga's project, saying they expected something to go in the space, that it appeared carefully designed and that they appreciated the early notice and call for input.
However, there was a spirited exchange among the assembled condo owners and tenants of the Grove Arcade about who was blocking whose views and sunlight. Several residents of 21 Battery Park worried that the new hotel will hamper their view. When the concern was first raised, by Gary Davis, who operates an office in the building and was assigned to speak for its residents, Fraga noted that the construction of their building blocked the light for many rooms in his hotel, but "that's part of living in downtown." He later added that the design takes steps to mitigate the effect. When the concern came up again, a Grove Arcade resident shot back that 21 Battery Park had blocked his own "iconic view" of downtown. Some of the audience then fell to briefly arguing about whether the concerns of tenants or owners were more important when it came to expecting their views to remain unobstructed.
Richard Shuttleworth, who lives in the Vanderbilt Apartments, attended the event with several other residents, and told Xpress that he had opposed Fraga's previous project, but felt this one has a better design.
"This looks like a good project," he noted. "You need something that adds to the community and that you can make money on. At first blush, this looks like it's done both."
Mucci repeatedly emphasized that the plans are preliminary. Formal designs have yet to be submitted to the city of Asheville. Fraga noted that he hopes to break ground in April or May of next year, and complete the project around Spring 2015.
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