Haywood Street property goes digital

High-tech computer modeling may play a significant role in negotiations over a much-scrutinized piece of city-owned property downtown.

Visual aid: Several high-tech computer renderings are underway to help visualize what construction on this Haywood Street site could look like. Photo by Jonathan Welch

The McKibbon Hotel Group wants to build a seven-story hotel on the Haywood Street parcel adjacent to the Civic Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence.

At the request of the city's Planning and Economic Development Committee, the Renaissance Computing Institute at Asheville is generating computer-assisted renderings of the proposed structure. The committee, consisting of Council members Robin Cape and Bill Russell and Vice Mayor Jan Davis, made the request at its June meeting and will probably see the results in August, says Economic Development Director Sam Powers.

The institute, says Powers, will also develop three other models: one showing what size building could be erected on the site under the current Unified Development Ordinance; one showing what would be allowed if the city amended the law according to the recommendations in its new Downtown Master Plan; and a third that envisions combining city-owned property with a parcel owned by the Basilica of St. Lawrence and straightening out Page Avenue to develop public space there.

One scenario that's apparently not included in the modeling project is the proposal a basilica parishioner submitted to the city in June, which would convert most of the city-owned property into a plaza while still accommodating a reconfigured hotel (see "The Basilica's Big Idea," June 10 Xpress).

Computer modeling is not a new tool for visualizing potentially high-impact developments. But the level of detail provided by the institute, which typically creates storm and flood simulations, will be much higher than standard 3-D renderings. Users will be able to view the simulated building from various positions in the downtown area to see how it would affect the skyline and views of landmarks such as the Basilica.

City Council will make the final decision on what gets built on the Haywood Street property, and it can place conditions on the land transfer. That makes this kind of information potentially valuable. According to the minutes of the committee's June 10 meeting, Cape, who chairs the group, "reiterated her position that the Haywood Street property was a strategic piece of city-owned property, and, as such, Council had extra responsibility for the decision-making process."

Meanwhile, Renaissance Computing will soon become a neighbor of the downtown site, moving its offices from the A-B Tech campus to the Grove Arcade later this summer, according to Director Jim Fox. The new location will be a big help in keeping city residents informed about the Haywood Street project, notes Stephanie Monson of the city's Planning and Development Department. The downtown office will serve as a public information center as the city moves forward with plans for the site.

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