The McKibbon Hotel Group will not develop city-owned property across from the Basilica of St. Lawrence. According to an announcement from the company, a lawsuit by other downtown hoteliers dragged on long enough that the project was no longer viable.
McKibbon Vice President Wes Townson notified City Manager Gary Jackson this morning that they were terminating their agreement with the city to develop the site, currently home to an abandoned parking garage, derelict commercial building and a parking lot.
"We’re not going to develop the property on Haywood Street because of the lawsuit filed in March of this year by the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Asheville and the Indigo Hotel Asheville," company Chairman John McKibbon declared in the announcement. "We would have proceeded with the project had the lawsuit not been filed."
“City staff will begin the process of reassessing opportunities for this valuable public asset," Jackson wrote in a statement to Xpress. "This is a keystone property that is well positioned to create new opportunities and grow the city’s tax base. As we move forward, the Downtown Master Plan will be our roadmap. The plan is the result of two years of active public engagement and will be an integral part of our assessment. In the interim, we will move forward with removing the blighted structures on the property.”
The proposal for the 140-room hotel was controversial, with representatives of the Basilica and some local activists strongly opposing it, believing the site should be developed as a park or according to an alternative plan. But Asheville City Council, citing the need for more development of unused property in downtown, approved selling the property to McKibbon last September for $2.5 million. McKibbon had until Nov. 25 this year to make a final decision on whether or not to proceed.
Earlier this year, the hoteliers hit McKibbon with their lawsuit. While they failed to stop the project in court, and dropped the suit in September, the delay sent the company looking for other options.
“I believe the lawsuit lacked factual and legal basis and amounted to contractual interference," McKibbon notes in the announcement. "However, knowing that the lawsuit could drag on for a year or more, we began to look for an alternative site. The delay also gave other developers an opportunity to get started on their projects before ours could begin."
Specifically, McKibbon spokesperson Dave Tomsky noted plans for the Parks Hospitality Group to build a high-end hotel on the former Three Brothers restaurant site and local developer Tony Fraga's proposal for a Cambria Suites Hotel at the intersection of Battery Park and Page Avenues. "Those two projects, in addition to the delay, were the crucial elements in [McKibbon's] decision."
McKibbon, meanwhile, is partnering with Tower Associates, owners of the BB&T building, to develop an upscale hotel there.
McKibbon is pressing for the other hoteliers to reimburse the company and the city for their legal fees.