Asheville City Council approves sale of Haywood St. property to hotel company

Amid packed chambers and a contentious public debate, Asheville City Council voted 4-2 earlier tonight, Sept. 11, to approve the $2.5 million sale of property on Haywood Street to the McKibbon Hotel Group, who plan to build a 140-room hotel on the site.

After an hour-and-a-half public hearing, Council members voted 4-2 in favor of the project. However, they added requirements for a second appraisal of the land’s value, mitigating shadows on the Basilica, seismic monitoring to protect the historic structures nearby, a traffic-management study, and following the Downtown Master Plan’s design guidelines.

“This process has been going on for nearly a decade,” Council member Gordon Smith noted. “It’s time to pull the trigger.” He and Council member Jan Davis later added that they wanted to see the funds from the sale go towards affordable housing efforts.

In 2006, the city decided to sell off some of its property to promote economic development. The Haywood Street property — currently occupied by abandoned parking and commercial space — was a key to that effort, given its desirable location, and in 2008, McKibbon emerged at the top of the heap of all the applicants seeking to develop the property. However, the economic downturn left the fate of the project uncertain. Late last year, the Diocese of Charlotte, which runs the Basilica, offered to buy the property for $2 million and develop a plaza/residential/retail space on it. However, city staff have asserted that they were obligated to follow the process out with McKibbon, and that they must sell the site at fair market value, estimated at $2.5 million.

People Advocating Real Conservancy, an activist group that often opposes development it feels detrimental to the city, lobbied hard against the McKibbon plan, organizing opponents and even conducted a poll that found a majority opposed to the deal. Supporters of the Basilica’s plan and others concerned about the project also showed up in force, filling Council’s chambers.

Many speakers opposed the McKibbon plan because they didn’t want a hotel on the site (a park or public space was a popular alternative) or felt the Basilica would do a better job of developing the area. However, some speakers endorsed McKibbon’s plan, feeling it will bring much-needed activity to an abandoned area. For its part, the company promised to build a development set back from the Basilica and in keeping with the area’s architecture, as well as claiming that it’s open to future cooperation with the Basilica and other organizations on a plaza space.

Council member Cecil Bothwell (who works with the PARC political action committee) and Mayor Terry Bellamy voted against the sale. Bothwell said that the city should wait, redo the nearby intersection and then start the process of finding a potential developer over, asserting that too much had changed since McKibbon’s initial proposal. Bellamy also criticized the process, and felt the public’s feelings weren’t properly taken into account.

Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer was recused from the meeting because her law firm, Van Winkle, was hired to represent McKibbon. The company still has to get approval from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and city staff, a process that will take roughly a year.

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10 thoughts on “Asheville City Council approves sale of Haywood St. property to hotel company

  1. Stephen Lange

    Congratulations to all involved bringing another place for world travelers to stay in this cosmopolitan city we love to call home. It will bring jobs, revenue and momentum to Asheville. Mr. McKibbon has shown his flexibility, business acumen and style already in the Aloft project. I have no doubt that it will continue.

  2. Dionysis

    So a majority of citizens oppose this. I’ll bet they actually believe Council members are supposed to represent their interests when elected. How silly. Corporations rule! Just ask U.S. Cellular.

  3. orulz

    I am not opposed to selling the land to McKibbon, BUT I hope they refine their design. The design as proposed tries very hard to “fit in” but winds up looking like a jumbled mess. I really, really hate buildings that have a “snout” like this – two stories facing the street, then a small stepback, then rising to 6 or 7 stories. Where the heck did anybody get the idea that designing a building like that helps it to “blend in.” There aren’t any historical buildings in Asheville that do that. As far as I can see, all the historical tall buildings in Asheville of similar scale rise straight from the sidewalk to their full height. Flat Iron buildng; Jackson building; Vanderbilt Hotel; Public Service Building; etc. It’s not about how tall the section facing the sidewalk is. It’s about DETAIL. If you design the storefronts along the sidewalk with appropriate detailing, then it doesn’t matter how high it rises from the sidewalk.

    I also don’t like the parking entrance along Haywood; there’s already an alley behind where the hotel will go, why not widen that alley into a small public street (maybe something kind of like Walnut) and put all their vehicular entrances off of that? That would also make a more direct way to walk from the Grove Arcade to Haywood Street without having to go through the Haywood Park Hotel arcade.

    Lastly if they’re going to straighten Page, why not do even more to fix that weird intersection right in front of the Civic Center. Make it into a right-angle T intersection rather than the awkward making dogleg that’s there right now.

  4. Dionysis

    “What corporation rules the Asheville City Council?”

    Move here, become a citizen of the area and find out yourself. Or stay in Alabama, sit in your easy chair and keep on trolling.

  5. Bradd

    So….What makes Asheville a destination tourists want to visit (and spend their hard-earned dollar$)? What is it that Asheville has, setting it apart from other mountain towns in the region?
    My guess is that visitors want to come here to experience the surrounding mountain beauty, in a town that also has a good dose of history attached to it. They like Asheville’s earthy quality and laid-back vibe. There seems too,that a certain era is being presented to those visitors, as they stroll around town. They come away with the feeling that Asheville really has character,…a soul to it.
    People visit here,people move here, for the above reasons(and other attributes,too). When they walk around town, they notice that many of the buildings are decked out in Art Deco detail. It’s not just the beauty of the Grove Arcade or S & W building they recognize,but even their favorite restaurant,shop or art studio seems to be housed in that same (era) quality.
    Those same visitors might barely notice the Merrill Lynch building (shame on the city’s councilmen from that time period, in letting I.M.Pei design his cube) that stands overlooking Pack Square. Or they may,like many residents of this area, cast a critical eye towards it and recognize it as incongruous.
    Here in 2012,the Asheville City Council,a few days ago voted(4-2 in favor of) to approve the sale of the Haywood St. property to the McKibbon Hotel Group…as we all now know. This is the very same McKibbon Hotel Group(curious,no?) that is putting the finishing touches on the Aloft Hotel(also Downtown on Biltmore Av)which, by the way,(in my eyes) is indeed,incongruous.
    So,there will be no park located at this area across from St. Lawrence Basilica and the Catholic Church didn’t have quite the same clout as the McKibbon Group. Unfortunately, we now all have to live with Council’s decision. Remember to vote next election(s).
    While Asheville wants and needs tourists to come to town…and therefore needs places for those visitors to stay…we do indeed, need hotels. They just don’t ALL have to be Downtown and just as important, the hotels(and the Big Companies building them) that ARE Downtown, should respect the style of what makes Asheville…Asheville.
    I’m not suggesting that Downtown should have that look-alike Biltmore Village look…it doesn’t, and never will. There are plenty of other buildings that ‘don’t fit’ with the Art Deco architecture. This is about trying very hard to NOT add to the ‘cubes’ that do exist,because
    when there are more of those…here comes the cliche…You’ve killed the goose that laid the golden egg.
    Let us all hope that the McKibbon Hotel Group
    honors their plans and builds a structure that respects Asheville’s architecture (unlike their Aloft Hotel) and the City Council holds them to it.
    Personally, I would have loved a park.
    Brad Dawson

  6. Longtime Reader

    I agree with Mr.Lange. City Council members who voted for this project are to be congratulated and supported. It makes economic, aesthetic, architectural, and urban sense.

  7. Big Al

    “…the Catholic Church didn’t have quite the same clout as the McKibbon Group… Remember to vote next election(s).”

    As much as they may dislike the McKibbon capitalists, I can’t see the local Marxists voting out the current commie-lib council for the sake of the Catholic Church (i.e the opium den of the unenlightened bourgeois masses).

    “…visitors might barely notice the Merrill Lynch building…that stands overlooking Pack Square.”

    For all of the criticism of the new ALOFT hotel, I find the outside so innocuous that I drive by it without even realizing it is there.

    At least the proposed design for Haywood street makes SOME attempt to conform to local architectural standards.

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