Building a legacy

Asheville developer Antonio O. “Tony” Fraga had already shared his audacious vision with neighbors and tenants of the Haywood Park property he’s looking to redevelop. Last week he unveiled it for the media as a prelude to launching the laborious process of gaining the necessary city approvals.

Can he build it?: Yes, he can, says Asheville developer Tony Fraga, who wants to redevelop his Haywood Park complex to feature two new highrises.

The April 2 meeting provided the first glimpse of actual design plans. The ambitious project would include a 25-story hotel and a 21-story condominium tower, as well as associated office and retail space. The property is bordered by Page and Battery Park avenues and Haywood Street.

The visual centerpiece would be a grand, gabled hotel tower that would approximate the ornate, 12-story building originally envisioned by legendary Asheville developer E.W. Grove to crown the adjacent Grove Arcade. But Grove’s death in 1927 (two years before the arcade opened) and the subsequent arrival of the Great Depression sounded a death knell for those plans.

The vision was resurrected, says Fraga, after he saw an etching of Grove’s original blueprint at an Urban Trail station at the corner of Page and Battery Park. “I saw that and knew it should have been built,” he explains.

According to preliminary plans, the retro-looking Haywood Hotel would create up to 225 new hotel rooms, while the modern-style residential tower facing Haywood Street would contain 94 new condos, some in excess of 2,000 square feet.

In addition, the building at the corner of Page and Battery Park that now houses Kostas Menswear would be replaced by one that would mimic the adjacent Grove Arcade in height and style and feature restaurants and retail space. A rooftop pool would serve as a deck for hotel guests, and a similar deck and pool nearby would be available to condo owners. All told, the project would create 80,000 square feet of retail and 42,000 square feet of office space, some of which would be created out of what is now the Haywood Park Hotel. About 500 underground parking spaces are planned, some of which would be for the general public.

Resurrecting a dream: The centerpiece of Fraga’s vision is this 25-story tower that mimics the one E.W. Grove envisioned atop the adjacent Grove Arcade. Above, an artist’s rendition of the proposed buildings.

Fraga also envisions a new arcade that would bisect his property; an archway over Page Avenue would give it a visible link to the Grove Arcade. At least some of the roofs will be vegetative, and the developer says he expects to seek energy-efficient LEED certification for his project. Fraga says he’s had discussions with city planners about possibly closing a portion of Page Avenue on weekends, creating a pedestrian-only thoroughfare where local artists could exhibit and sell their work.

Not counting the hotel, Fraga estimates that the project would cost about $100 million. And though he’s still looking for a hotel developer, Fraga says that component might cost at least another $25 million.

Build it and they will come

Fraga’s company, the Florida-based FIRC Group, bought the 2-acre downtown property from local businessman Joe Kimmel last June for $18.5 million. The package included the Haywood Park Hotel, the adjacent atrium and Starnes Building on Haywood, a parking lot on Page Avenue, and the building at 35 Battery Park Ave. that houses Kostas.

At the time of the sale, Kimmel said: “When I purchased the Haywood Park property from Robert Armstrong, I had my own dreams for the future of downtown, and I wanted to make Robert proud; he was a pioneer of downtown rebirth and development. Unfortunately, I was unable to realize those dreams on my own, so I set out to find someone who would deliver the kind of project I believe Asheville needs. Tony Fraga is that man.”

The Cuban-born Fraga, who now lives in Asheville, has tended to focus on more run-of-the-mill shopping centers and offices; locally, he’s also developing Main Street at Biltmore Lake and redeveloping Westgate shopping center as a mixed-used project. But the Haywood Park redevelopment, he has said, would be his most extensive and visionary project to date.

“I consider this my legacy project,” he told Xpress.

The next step for Fraga is winning city approval, starting with a formal presentation to the Downtown Commission in May. If that group signs off on the plan, it would then go to the Technical Review Committee for an exhaustive vetting, based on the scale of the Tier III project. After passing that hurdle, it would proceed to the Planning and Zoning Commission, followed by an appearance before City Council for final approval and a conditional-use permit, according to interim Planning Director Shannon Tuch.

Fraga spokesman Dave Tomsky notes that FIRC will soon unveil a Web site and hot line so that members of the public can get current information on the project and provide feedback.

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