The Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club in downtown Asheville, which enjoys a national reputation as a top music destination, is expanding.
On tap: a private club downstairs on the Orange Peel's Hilliard Avenue side that will seat 75 to 150 people and serve cocktails, and a new smoking porch of at least 400 square feet on the club's opposite north side. On the main floor, 50 to 100 removable "box seats" will be added to the left side of the stage to allow for special seating during certain shows. And the long bar on the south side of the room will be divided, with half of it staying put and the other half moving to the north side of the room.
"To stay strong, we needed to keep improving," says Pat Whalen, the head of Public Interest Projects Inc., which owns the Orange Peel. The company specializes in downtown revitalization and breathed new life into the Orange Peel in 2002. "We want to continue to make this the best live-music venue we can make it."
To that end, the Orange Peel applied for, and won, a $300,000 loan guarantee from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority in March. It was time for the club to evolve, and the guarantee helped make the project a go in a tough economy, Whalen says.
Liz Whalen, the club's marketing director, adds that it was time to invest despite the current recession.
"Asheville has a really progressive music population, and music fans that are really loyal," she says. By bumping up the club's capacity from 942 to about 1,200, it can draw acts that might have previously passed up chances to play there. "The extra capacity puts us in the next tier of club size" on par with the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and the NorVa in Norfolk, Va., she says.
The planned changes represent an investment of about $500,000 for the Orange Peel. Work started a week ago. Sitting at the corner of Hilliard and Biltmore avenues, the club has a long history, first as a 1950s skating rink and then as a home for R&B clubs featuring disco and funk. The building later saw use as an auto parts warehouse, before lying vacant until Public Interest Projects reopened it seven years ago.
Last year Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the five best clubs in the U.S. Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys, the Flaming Lips, Ben Harper and the Smashing Pumpkins have all played the Peel, an intimate space with a bouncy wooden floor and giant overhead fan.
The yet-to-be-named establishment in the basement will serve liquor and operate as a private membership club. Douglas Maderis of Maderis Designs has drawn up plans for the space, Liz Whalen says. Meanwhile, the porch on the north side of the Peel will help minimize the pedestrian traffic that can stack up on the sidewalk along Biltmore Avenue and generally improve safety.
All the work is scheduled to be completed by October, she says, and none of the construction should interfere with the club's current show schedule.