The long hello: Permitting issues drag on for South Slope ventures

UP IN THE AIR: Scott Thomas, left, and Mike Piroli, right, were hoping to open the Public School bar in the old Standard Paper Sales Co. building on Banks Avenue this fall, but city paperwork has kept the project from getting off the ground as scheduled. Photo by Cindy Kunst

By now, you’ve probably heard about the bars, breweries and grub hubs that are planning to open in the old Standard Paper Sales building on the South Slope. Perhaps you’ve suddenly caught yourself daydreaming about Vortex Doughnuts or salivating at the thought of the eagerly anticipated Buxton Hall Barbecue. And surely, you’ve thought about how nice it’ll be, after a few ESBs at Green Man, to just walk around the corner and sip on a White Zombie or a Firewater IPA once Catawba Brewing opens its new facility there.

For my part, I’d hoped I could already be enjoying the patio at Public School, the newest watering hole set to settle into 32 Banks Ave. Driving by, you can see construction workers carrying equipment in and out and hear the sounds of loud machinery. But Vortex had originally planned to open in June, and subsequently, all four businesses were definitely setting their sights on September. So, as the summer slips away, you can’t help but wonder what’s holding up those projects.

“My understanding is that the building itself requires what they call the shell permit, which needs to be granted first before the individual tenants can be issued their certificates of occupancy,” says Meherwan Irani, who co-owns Chai Pani and MG Road and is working with chef Elliott Moss to launch Buxton Hall Barbecue.

Knowing they’d probably be the last of the four to open, Irani and his team have quite easily come to terms with the situation. Considering how much hype Buxton Hall has already generated, opening in winter shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem for them. But what about the other three?

“All these other businesses aren’t relying as much on the weather as we are,” says Mike Piroli, one of Public School’s three partners. “We’re a bar with a big patio: If we open in January, that isn’t a good look for us!”

Although Buxton Hall has dominated the advance talk, Public School also seems to have garnered some attention. “There’s a real need for just a down-home locals bar here that isn’t ‘divey,’” notes Piroli. “I love to go sit in the dark at a great dive bar, but I think we need something that feels a little lighter. I want to go someplace where I can just be comfortable, that’s quiet and cool.”

Piroli, who came to Asheville five years ago, has a background in marketing and journalism, with stints at the noteworthy hip-hop magazines Elemental and XXL. And though he’s partnering with LAB General Manager Benjy Greene and Scandals bartender Scott Thomas, Piroli warns future patrons not to expect the LAB’s high ceilings and glossy façade. The space, he says, “has all this exposed brick, hardwood floors, skylights and old windows. It’s a really exceptional space as is, and we just want to let it ride like that. … We want to open a bar that is, first and foremost, for people who are from here and not for out-of-towners. I just think there’s a need in Asheville for a bar that’s for us.”

Accordingly, continues Piroli, Public School will also be decidedly more blue-collar. “So many of us here are service industry people,” he explains, “and when you’re in the service industry, you just don’t have the money to pay $10 for a cocktail, even though that cocktail may be the most delicious thing you’ve ever had in your life.”

The shell permit was expected to be issued by early September, but, as Irani explains, “I think that has been pushed back a bit. … I know that a lot of the other tenants have actually been struggling to get open within a certain time frame, but for us, it feels good to be in a position where we are not under the gun to open.”

Meanwhile, despite the frustrations, the city, the landlords and tenants do seem to have found common ground. “From my understanding, they could have split the building in the beginning if they had wanted to,” Irani continues, “but they chose not to, because they really are committed to revitalizing the South Slope, to preserving an historic building, and to building something that is going to last for a while, and I think the rest of us are on that same page.”

For now, however, it appears that eager patrons will just have to stay patient, even though, as Tom Petty put it, “The waiting is the hardest part.”


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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of Follow me @jonathanammons

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6 thoughts on “The long hello: Permitting issues drag on for South Slope ventures

  1. Han

    It would be nice to fill out this piece by calling the city and learning the reason for the delay.

    • Vortex Doughnuts

      Something got lost in translation for this article. The delay is not the city’s fault. The building shell permits were issued on April 1. This is all due to slow construction. I’ll leave it at that and bite my tongue.

  2. I was worried about some of this story not having enough context due to limited space, and it seems my concerns were legitimate. An initial concern for me with this piece was that it would come across as though we were trying to blame someon or accuse the city of holding something up. That was not the intention of this piece, nor is it the case in the situation. Everyone is trying to do their best with the laws that are written to preserve a building that means something to the community as a whole, and that takes time. This story was written for the sole purpose of updating people on why it was taking so long for the South Slope to get up and running. A majority of the people I run into want to know when these companies are opening and this was simply intended to address that question. My apologies for not making it clear enough that this was a construction related delay, I thought the last few quotes from Mr. Irani would have been evident enough, but it seems I was wrong. You all know I don’t mind ruffling feathers, but that was not intended with this piece, I apologize.

    • Vortex Doughnuts

      The story title/headline should read “Construction delays drag on for South Slope ventures” not “Permitting issues drag on for South Slope ventures”

      • Helen Hyatt

        Thank you Vortex for straightening this out. Mountain Ex should get their facts right when writing a story. Or it should just be in the opinion / garbage column. This is not ruffling feathers, this is making up stuff so maybe people will read it and hate their city government.

        • I would like to point out that there are actually no factual errors in this article. The facts are that there is a complicated permit that was issued called a shell permit that does not allow anyone inside to begin their construction until the entire building get’s the city’s approval. Any disagreement with what I reported in this article is an issue of semantics. As I said before, this was not intended to “ruffle feathers”, it was merely meant to explain to everyone that emails me on a regular basis asking if we know when these places will be open just why it is taking so long. I don’t need to reach very far to find actual issues facing Asheville to actually “ruffle feathers”, this is not one of them, it was merely an update.

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