Stirring the pot

The Windsor Hotel, an anomaly in pricey downtown Asheville, has long been something of an endangered species. A downtown fixture for decades, the boarding house on the corner of Broadway and Walnut streets was one of the few remaining housing options in the central business district for people of modest means. Many long-term residents lived paycheck to paycheck. Several worked as day laborers; some had addiction problems; some were on disability or another form of fixed income. One was blind, another on oxygen.

Time to move

But on Oct. 5—the day David Madera officially took possession of the property—a memo informed residents that the Windsor was now officially the Asheville Hotel. Weekly rates would be raised (in some cases doubled), and those who cleared out within a week could be sent on their way with $250. A nonsmoking policy was also instituted, effective immediately (many residents were smokers). “Should you be unable to comply with this,” the memo stated, “you will be asked to vacate the premises.” Soon after, Madera conducted a walk-through; each room was photographed, and cooking devices like such as hot plates were removed to comply with fire-safety laws. Within a week, roughly half the guests were gone.

Madera—a recent transplant from Venice Beach, Calif., who bought the Windsor from Asheville resident Tom Callahan for $2.3 million—feels the reactions of many residents, as well as the media, have been unfair. “We really have done over and above what most people would have done, but it still came out negative,” he told Xpress, adding, “Not one single person that I know of did not have an option.”

“If you consider a shelter an option,” responds longtime resident and current Windsor employee Robert Martinez, who feels the change was too abrupt. “It was like, boom—he put the hammer down. You just don’t do that people,” says Martinez.

Since the change in ownership, he says he’s watched the hotel empty out, as vacated rooms are prepared for renovation and mattresses get tossed in a trash bin out front. Hotel management, he says, has asked him to take on more hours, but his room will no longer be provided as it was in the past. If he stayed, he’d be expected to pay $628 a month for housing while earning $7 an hour working for the hotel. Martinez says he plans to explore other options, calling that arrangement “indentured servitude.”

Representatives from the Affordable Housing Coalition visited the hotel that first week and counseled residents on their options, but some are still living at the hotel. “The people who are still here are scrambling,” says Martinez. “They’re in a precarious situation. They’ll have to move out with backpacks and bicycle trips.” Some former residents found housing in the Vanderbilt Apartments on Haywood Street; others applied for public housing or moved to similar residential hotels.

Madera maintains that before he arrived, the situation at the hotel “created an environment for undesirable behavior. A lot of people were staying here for extended periods of time, which is really not what this building is designed for; This is really not a great place for people to live.” And due to lax management, he adds, many people were habitually behind on their weekly rent.

Vacancy at the Windsor: Under the ownership of David Madera, above, the affordable boarding house on Broadway and Walnut streets is going to become a designer hotel. Madera gave longterm guests the option of either facing a rate hike or moving out in one week with a check for $250.

The rate hike, says Madera, was necessary not just to meet his mortgage payments but because “I knew it would eliminate people who really didn’t want to be here. … I had to stir the pot.”

Madera says he never intended to take on such a project. “I just came here to visit,” he says with a laugh, “and it was like God said, ‘This is it.’” A chance meeting with Callahan led to negotiations.

Callahan declined to comment on the recent changes at the hotel, saying he didn’t know about Madera’s plans, nor did he ask. “I don’t really have anything earth-shattering to say about it,” he told Xpress.

Before closing the deal, Madera wanted to get the feel of the place—so he moved in for several months.

“I decided, I’ll stay here. I’ll be one of them; I’ll find out what’s really happening here,” he explains. “The building kind of told me what it wants: It wants all its old brick exposed; it wants to be old and nice. It was just waiting for me to come and do my thing.” Madera says he plans to hold an event in which each room can be designed by a different architect or interior designer.

But Martinez is less than impressed with those plans. “This has always been a workingman’s hotel,” he says. “Now it’s going to cater to highfalutin, bourgeoisie-type guests.”

Raising Windsor

On a recent afternoon, three people looking for work entered the hotel lobby and found Madera sitting behind the desk. They were in luck—he was ready to hire laborers to start ripping the plaster off the walls to expose the brick beneath. “How much are you asking an hour?” he queried. One said $10; another said he usually works for $15 but that $10 was acceptable.

“We’ll start at $8,” said Madera. “And if you are the workers you say you are, then we’ll bump it up to $10.”

A frisky young dog bounced up, wagging its tail. Madera had rescued the dog from a canine shelter, dubbed him “Windsor,” and given him a new home.

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14 thoughts on “Stirring the pot

  1. lokel

    Are we supposed to believe that this guy has a heart now that he adopted a dog?

    It’s a shame he didn’t care as much for his former tenants.

    It is a hoot that he expects one of his own former renters to be able to find a place and live on $7 an hour.

    The good thing is that if any of the guys who lived there are veterans, they can soon find a home/bed at the new ABCCM shelter out on US 70.

    I wonder if those who “showed up” looking for work were legal US citizens?

  2. rebecca

    Hi lokel,

    Unless they were Canadians with a talent for talking like Southerners, the folks looking for work seemed to be just as legal as any other white people whose European ancestors got here and chased out the Native Americans. But I didn’t ask to see birth certificates or anything.

  3. At a measly $8 his workers would be the ones who would need to live at the Windsor!

    If you’ve got enough money to kick folks out of their HOMES have the decency to pay a living wage!

    I am so frustrated with Asheville –
    Not a soul that is worth a damn can seem to afford living here anymore!

  4. I can afford to live here. Does that mean that I’m not worth a damn? Does that mean that if you can afford to live here you shouldn’t? Clarifications are needed, JBo.

  5. Unit

    Let’s be honest: it was really only a matter of time before someone bought the place and cleaned it up. It sounds like this man wants to do good things with the place, and is giving the former tenants some options, even if not enough for everyone’s approval. It’s really not his responsibility to provide charity housing for these folks anymore than it’s mine or yours.
    For those criticizing the options he gave them: have you done your part to help the poor, the homeless, the addicts and destitute among us? It’s great to be idealistic, but let’s not forget reality.

  6. Carrie

    I have a scenario…Let’s say I buy a house. For a long time, the previous owner’s brother has been living there and paying very low or no rent while caretaking the property. Now that I have bought the home, am I now responsible for finding the brother work or keeping the same deal and letting him remain in my house? I’m not sure anyone can make an argument for that possition or that this scenario is all that different from the Windsor.

  7. travelah

    For all the naysayers who are so upset at somebody fixing up a run down piece of property, start walking the talk and open up your homes for some of the poor souls you are so concerned with. Maybe you could work on your compassionate plan while you sip your latte and dream about another neat Fauxprog idea.

    Shucks, not everybody can live in Asheville.

  8. Walt

    No, it’s not *necessary* or *legally required* that he do the right thing by the previous residents, just as it’s not necessary for him to try to learn what Asheville is all about. That doesn’t change what the right thing to do is, though…

  9. Walt, just what do you think Asheville is all about? … and why should he bother learning about Asheville, none of the other flatlanders who move up here seem to?

  10. Cassandra Newman

    …and, BAM, there goes Ralph with the flatlander comments. It’s like a repeating pattern, scheduled for every 10 posts or so.
    Pretty soon we’ll get travelah with a vague rant against ‘Liberals’ and haunbtedheadnc with a comment about how if we dont all support the Ellington we are asking for a Wal Mart in Spillcorn.
    I’ve got ten-to-one odds on it.

    Oh, and Bugg, I was under the impression you could ‘barely afford’ to live here on your measily coffee-shop wage, you oppressed barista, you. Did you get a 50 cent-an-hour raise, or something? And, by your own accounts, I was under the impression that you were, in fact, “not worth a damn.”

  11. the henge

    This is just another example of how the rich are getting richer and the poor oh well are getting poorer,and for people to think these actions were helpful ,they are just as guilty .This country and city has become absessed with greed and money at the expense of the less fortunate and to run people out of their home no matter where it is or at what cost is wrong ,the bible says that its easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle than a RICH man get to heaven ,think about that next time you check on your bank account because some people do not even have one.I have always thought that mountain people were friendly and would help their neighbor in times of need———oh I forgot this is not a mountain person but another import from out west taking advantage of our hospitality ,and some locals are on his side money makes strange bedfellows–GO FIGURE–

  12. and the liberal winds of negativity blow out of Asheville in fitful gusts of gab … eh?

    but up here in the mountains, flatland winds do not travel or as far nor have all that much of an impact.
    ;-)

  13. jamie johnson

    i’ve lived here for about 34 yrs now, and it seems that the Asheville wasn’t so popular up until it was declared in the media like the rolling stone ect. to be ” the freak capital of the u.s”, the microbrew capital of the east coast” , ” the best little city in the south” and on and on. Asheville of the 80′s and 90′s was a very different place as far as ideas and people. there was a concern for the fellow man , and a love of asheville that seemed much more genuine. but with all the attention on the asheville’s culture/subculture came the prefab new age shops that charge way too much, the influx of the wealthy, and the gentrification of the very culture /subculture that made this town so attractive for the last quarter century asheville has a very long history of art and revolutionary thinking from the black mnt. college, to the therrimon . to the famouse actors that vacationed here in the 30′s and 40′s . artists,writers,actors,and poets have always thrived here. but in the last decade things have changed drastically, and if you are unable to see that, then you are far removed from the actual people here. and it probably doesn’t bother you at all that there is a monstrosity of a staples on merrimon right up against the street, or that most of the small unique businesses that attracted all those people, and lead to all the media attention are now gone . displaced by starbucks, and the bohemian hotel ( bohemian ….ha) and i won’t even get into how awful and out of place the BBT building looks. ( who loved A’ville enough to let that be built i wonder) i look at these comments from people that probably wouldn’t know a single fixture person downtown if they had a sign on their neck. …unless of course they had a suit on and sat on city council. and if you have enough money to afford a decent place here these days , then great, but what if the economy doesn’t get better? you might change your tune much as a couple of my friends that were millionaires up until right after 9/11 . point is, the people make the town, not vise versa. and the waelthy few are removing all the things that attracted people to A’ville to begin with. before too long it will just be another Columbia SC if it doesn’t stop. then p.s. why is it always some guy over 60 talkin about “lliberal this, and flatlander that” politics or local have little to do with anything fella. remove all the superfluous and you are left with a simple choice of what’s right , and what’s wrong. and how people SHOULD be treated.

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