Wearing a hard hat and shades, Kevin Kerr taps a column of pinkish stone in the soon-to-be-completed Pioneer Building on Broadway just behind Greenlife Grocery in Asheville.
“We’re building it like they used to,” he says with a nod. “We’re using hard stone. When it’s finished, it will look like it’s been here for ages.”
Kerr is CEO of the Boulevard Development Group. He and his business partner, Jay Lurie, are in the early stages of creating Five Points Village, an ambitious redevelopment of a quarter-mile stretch of Broadway. “There’s going to be new sidewalks, new pedestrians—a life on Broadway,” says Lurie. “It connects to Montford; it connects to downtown.”
A portion of the city’s greenway system connecting downtown to the Botanical Gardens, he notes, will run right by the village.
“That’s part of the whole plan: to have these amenities integrated with everything,” says Kerr.
The two men say they have a vision of a Broadway filled not with abandoned buildings or half-used businesses but with residents (in condos priced at between $279,000 and $500,000), retail and office space.
The Pioneer Building is slated to open in September. And next year, phase II construction is expected to begin: two mixed-use buildings separated by a courtyard, which they hope to complete by 2009. Phase III is planned for a site directly across from the Pioneer Building that’s now being used to store vehicles and construction equipment for the other projects.
When it’s all done, a nearly vacant portion of the Broadway corridor will feature high-end condos, retail and office space stretching from downtown to the Five Points Restaurant. That’s the plan, at any rate.
“Eventually everything from the diner on down is going to get built up,” says Lurie. “Right now a lot of the other phases are under option.”
Meanwhile, the marketing blitz has already begun, with ads in local media (including this paper), a billboard and postcards depicting the Pioneer and the other planned phases, with a little inset urging prospective residents to “reserve your unit today!”
To date, the Pioneer has sold about 60 percent of its units, both residential and commercial, Lurie reports.
“Sales have been good, though the market’s slow,” he notes. “We’ve got spaces available in both residential and commercial. We’re getting tons of good feedback—no complaints from the neighbors.” In recent years, says Lurie, “There’s been nothing down there but bad stuff, just a bunch of loitering…”
Kerr nods, but he’s quick to add, “which has significantly changed over the last few years: We’ve been continually cleaning up the area.”
Five Points reacts
When a big new redevelopment comes into an area, neighborhood residents may have mixed or even outright hostile feelings toward it. But Ben Gilliam, who heads up the Five Points Neighborhood Association, says the residents support new construction along Broadway.
“I’m in favor of Broadway [being] redeveloped: There’s empty buildings all up and down it,” says Gilliam. “I’m in favor of smart growth—growth that doesn’t overwhelm the neighborhood or neighbors.”
The Pioneer Building, he feels, fits that bill. “That’s a good example of development that fits in well with the neighborhood. There haven’t been any complaints from the neighbors about that building as far as I know,” he says. “The only times it’s come up in our Five Points meetings has been people holding that out as an example of how to do it right: a nice, mixed-use building that doesn’t overshadow the neighbors, isn’t going to bring heavy truck traffic onto neighborhood roads—and it’s an attractive building.”
By contrast, Gilliam points to the 11-story Horizon Building on Merrimon Avenue, at the other end of the Five Points neighborhood, as something “we’re firmly opposed to: It’s too big for the area. That [and the Pioneer] are kind of the two sides of this.”
Still, Gilliam says he’s not too worried about downtown-style development rolling down Broadway, due to the area’s zoning.
“It caps buildings at four stories—and we think that’s about appropriate for the area. You might hear something different if someone tried to jam a building up against someone’s back door, but generally I think that’s a workable size.”
In fact, the association’s vision, as described by Gilliam, seems to overlap with Kerr and Lurie’s, at least in some ways. “I’d like to see wider sidewalks [and] bike lanes,” notes Gilliam. “Some people would like to see [Broadway] taken down to three lanes, with parking and bike lanes. I think that would be better for pedestrians and businesses.”
Health Adventure moving in
Kerr and Lurie’s projects aren’t the only redevelopment going on down Broadway these days. The Health Adventure, the science and health-education center currently located in Pack Place, plans to move further up Broadway to a 10-acre spot near UNCA’s Botanical Gardens. There, the organization will build Momentum, a “science and health adventure park” centered around a “34,000-square-foot facility offering healthy food service, a large changing exhibits gallery, and quality health and science exhibits that spark imagination and positive transformation,” according to a plan released by the Health Adventure.
The project’s Web site asserts that the public can expect a groundbreaking “sometime in 2008,” and that the Health Adventure has raised $10 million of the anticipated $25 million required to make Momentum a reality. Donors include the Janirve Foundation, Clear Channel Asheville, the Tourism and Development Authority and local Kiwanis chapters.
The writing is not on the wall
“Broadway is a main artery into downtown, and it’s been a dilapidated area almost forever,” says Lurie, explaining his reasons for choosing to develop that area. “It’s been needing a revitalization. Montford went through its re-gentrification over the last eight years; it’s still going through re-gentrification. Broadway is a gateway to Montford and downtown. A lot of people want to move back to the city.”
In addition, notes Kerr, “There’s also the historical aspect. Broadway was the original artery to downtown. When we designed these, we took a lot of historical buildings into account. We want to create a north Asheville urban village in walking distance of downtown.”
On July 23, Kerr and Lurie’s company demolished the infamous “Pink House,” a dilapidated, graffiti-covered, two-story structure that had sat unused on Broadway for years.
“We found three people living in it,” says Lurie.
“Yeah, the neighborhood was really glad to see that go,” adds Kerr.
By the next day, a chunk of the basement was all that remained—and a backhoe was methodically tearing it apart.
“The graffiti is gone,” Lurie observed with just a bit of a smile, watching the concrete break up. But 20 feet away, two spray-painted tags glistened on the slick sign touting the Pioneer Building.