Space race

New shops, condos, office space and a restaurant are all in the works along Rankin Avenue. photos by Jake Frankel and Bill Rhodes
New shops, condos, office space and a restaurant are all in the works along Rankin Avenue. photos by Jake Frankel and Bill Rhodes

Big changes are coming to downtown Asheville’s North Lexington and Rankin avenues, including new restaurants, office space, condos, galleries, a courtyard and a terrace, property owner John Lantzius reveals.

The Lantzius family, key players in Asheville’s downtown revitalization since the late 1970s, own several properties in the area. In 2004, John’s sister, Dawn Lantzius, was bitterly criticized for declining to renew the lease of Vincent’s Ear, a popular counterculture-friendly club in the neighborhood. At the time, critics viewed the move as part of a larger attempt to gentrify the area.

Among the Lantzius holdings is the sprawling structure on the north side of Walnut Street between Rankin and North Lexington. The 80,000-square-foot building houses Lexington Park Antiques, clothing shops and other businesses, but much of the interior space has been vacant for several years.

John Lantzius, who divides his time between here and Vancouver, B.C., says that's about to change. Renovations on the top floor, which fronts on Rankin, began a few months ago. Within six to eight months, he expects it to house a new "creative center" featuring office space for "architects, designers, people that are in creative businesses," he explains.

"This is a pretty rough building, so it's going to be a kind of industrial-looking space — stained concrete floors kind of thing and, you know, minimalistic space — but very interesting, with high ceilings and so on."

Even in these hard economic times, Lantzius reports plenty of interest from potential tenants.

"I've got all kinds of people stopping by wanting to know when it's going to be finished," he says. "I've got no problems there; all I've got to do is get it built."

Along Rankin Avenue, he's considering putting in a restaurant that could include outdoor seating, similar to what the Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge already offers.

"The sidewalks are going to have plants on them," he explains. “We might have one small restaurant there, something kind of coming out into the street. There's going to be all kinds of exciting lighting. So it's going to be a great improvement to the street."

Making connections

To help link the area and the nearby Rankin parking garage to the heart of Lexington Avenue, Lantzius is planning to construct a public walkway and small courtyard between his building and Shady Grove Flowers. (The little garden that had occupied the space for more than a decade was demolished Feb. 6.)

"I'm trying to connect Rankin to Lexington, because both streets are so long. … And I'm going to make a nice courtyard, with hopefully an art gallery in the lower floor," Lantzius reveals. "It's going to be a nice little outdoor space.

"It will also tie in nicely to the courtyard across the street where Boca is. The city has said they'll put in a crosswalk linking these two courtyards."

Yet another courtyard, which is adjacent to Bouchon and Crêperie Bouchon, is also getting an upgrade. Michel Baudouin, who owns both restaurants, says they're putting up a metal-and-glass roof structure over the portion of the courtyard closest to Bouchon to allow heated, year-round service. Most of the courtyard will remain open-air, with new landscaping and patio furniture for Crêperie patrons, who’ll also be able to enjoy a drink there thanks to a new liquor license.

"A lot of action"

Meanwhile, Lantzius is planning a new outdoor terrace and restaurant at the corner of North Lexington and Walnut Street. The space, which sits across Walnut Street from The Southern Kitchen and Bar, most recently housed Koi Koi, a now-defunct “world decor” boutique; before that, it was Terra Nostra Decor.

"I'm going to make that into a really nice space — hopefully open it a little more and have a really nice terrace there," he says, adding, "There are quite a few people interested in that space too."

Farther up the road, Lexington Avenue Brewery co-owner Mike Healy says he and partner Steve Wilmans are teaming up with Cleo River LLC to help develop the adjacent 35,000-square-foot structure at 37 N. Lexington. The LAB plans to put in a new tap room, restaurant and production facility. Cleo River bought the long-dormant former home of Daniels Graphics and Daniels Communications in 2010 for $2.6 million. The LLC is planning three new retail spaces on Lexington, two on Rankin, plus adding a couple floors to a portion of the building for condos.

“That's big-time stuff,” Lantzius observes. “It's been an empty block. Now, finally, we're going to get a lot of businesses there." He sees all these development plans as serving his longtime goal of making downtown Asheville a more livable community.

"One of the main things is, I'm trying to make Lexington Avenue and downtown so nice that everybody will live here downtown and won't be building these little houses out in the countryside, destroying the farms and the mountainsides," Lantzius explains. "We're trying to get a lot of action down here. … I want to have a nice urban space."

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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