The Biz: WNC Business Briefs

An agreement signed by property owners in downtown Asheville's Eagle/Market Street district could lead to new development aimed at breathing new life into the historically African-American neighborhood known as The Block.

Building consensus: The Block's revitalization may be back on track after an agreement signed by the neighborhood's property owners and major players. By Jonathan Welch

On March 2, several representatives and property owners signed the agreement, which calls for creating 78 affordable-housing units and 6,500 square feet of retail space. The development would require demolishing four buildings, including The Ritz and neighboring structures, hopefully preserving the historic façades.

"This is trying to bring it back to the more viable community it once was," explains Darryl Hart, vice president of the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. Hart's group will partner with the Eagle Market Renaissance LLC on the development.

The agreement marks a change in tone in the history of attempts to redevelop The Block. Over the past decade and a half, property owners and other stakeholders have disagreed about the best approach for redevelopment, filing lawsuits and stalling plans.

The new concept, though, has the blessings of both Hart and Ritz owner Gene Ellison, as well as the YMI Cultural Center and Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Last year, the church got approval to raze two of its own buildings in the neighborhood.

"We wanted to show the community that, at this point, we're all together," says Hart. "Everybody's working in a positive way. We're not at odds like we were in the past."

The planned opening of the adjacent Pack Square Park and a new restaurant in the Hayes & Hopson Building sometime this spring has reinforced the need to get a consensus on the project, he notes.

The agreement allows, however, that the concept needs further examination and due diligence, and it will also have to navigate the city's approval process.

Mountain BizWorks will see you now

Mountain BizWorks' Asheville office is once again accepting memberships from local business owners and entrepreneurs. The nonprofit, which provides business training, assistance and networking, froze applications about four months ago so it could restructure the office to better meet the incredibly high demand in Asheville (the Hendersonville and Sylva offices continued taking in members.)

"This is a new trend for us," says Communications Manager Rachel Miller about the overwhelming amount of interest last year. "People who were already in business wanted to become members mostly because of the networking opportunities."

With a new membership coordinator on board, the group is now ready to accept new businesses and startups.

To get in on the action, call 253-2834, ext. 27, or e-mail erica@mountainbizworks.org.

SheTrade wants to raid your closet

Spring means out with the old and in with the new. But in SheTrade's case, what's old is new. The event — a gathering for people wanting to buy or sell boutique-level clothing on consignment — was planned by Gwen Keller and Wendy Murell, who describe themselves as "two local Asheville moms that were looking for a fun way to earn extra money and consign their boutique-quality clothing."

Sellers are invited to submit quality clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry, and formal wear (including prom attire). All items must be tagged and hung, and owners will receive 70 percent of the selling price.
Participants can bring their spring fashions to the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, 22 Woodfin St., Tuesday and Wednesday, March 23 and 24; the sale will take place Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 28. Volunteers for the event will get an early shopping day (March 25).

To learn more, go to www.shetradewnc.com.

Fair weather in Swannanoa

The Black Mountain/Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Local Job, Business and Health Fair, Saturday, March 20, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.at Owen Middle School.

According to the Swannanoa Business Association, "The triple focus of this event will draw increased participation from a diverse cross section of our community:
• Local employers will provide employment information and opportunities.
• Local retail and service businesses will be able to display and sell their products.
• Health-care providers will offer screenings and information about their services."

Concession sales at the event will benefit the school's baseball teams.

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