The Eagle Market Place project, a major affordable housing, commercial and community space development in the heart of downtown’s the Block neighborhood, got the go-ahead for funding from Asheville City Council tonight. The city will contribute $3.3 million to complete the project, and construction is slated to begin in October.
Redeveloping space in the Block, a historically African-American neighborhood devastated by the urban renewal of the ‘70s, has remained a major city priority for many years. Previous attempts fizzled or ended up in legal disputes. But this latest project, headed by the Eagle Market Street Development Corporation and Mountain Housing Opportunities, has received federal and local funds to bring it to completion. Earlier in its planning process, the city had already committed to $1.3 million in grants and loans.
The latest round of funding came after estimates rose sharply in the last two months, due to rising construction industry costs and the nature of the existing buildings’ foundation (the project incorporates and adds to several existing structures). After a third-party assessment, the city determined that the market rate would actually be above the new estimates, and staff put together a $3.3 million funding package, including money from the city’s economic development and affordable housing trust funds. Council approved the measure unanimously, with Council member Gordon Smith endorsing the proposal as “transformational.” The city must still approve a development agreement in two weeks, but the funding was the last major hurdle the project faced.
The building will include 62 affordable housing units along with commercial and community space. The project’s proponents, including neighborhood residents, local business owners, and planners, endorsed it at the public hearing, asserting that it will help revitalize a long-neglected area while proving a major boon for downtown’s working class.
In other business, Council:
• Heard a presentation about traffic in the Charlotte Street corridor. According to Don Bryson, the consultant who conducted the assessment, the proposals to reduce Charlotte Street from four lanes to three were “a solution in search of a problem” unless the city planned a larger overhaul including much more pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The study is part of a larger look at development in that neighborhood.
• Unanimously approved separate rezonings in Kenilworth (to constrain density and ensure single family home-style development) and in downtown (to allow for more density in the future). City staff noted that they’re looking at areas around the city for possible rezoning, in an effort to improve planning and avoid future problems.