Towers and sunlight

THE CONCEPT: Here’s a preliminary design for the proposed 14-story Cambria Suites hotel. Located on the right is 21 Battery Park, and the Grove Arcade is on the left. Image from FIRC Development Group

Longtime local developer and property owner Tony Fraga can picture a new building at the corner of Battery Park and Page Avenues: an upscale, 14-story hotel and parking garage, complete with a few condominiums. It’s not Fraga’s first idea for the site, which includes the now-vacant Kostas Menswear building. In 2008, he proposed a 23-story condo tower and a 25-story hotel on and near the site — plans that were withdrawn after Fraga failed to muster local government approval due to concerns about its size and potential for construction to disrupt the neighborhood.

This time around, Fraga convened an Oct. 30 neighborhood meeting to openly discuss his more modest proposal. “A box would be very simple to do,” he told a small crowd of downtown residents, business owners and city officials who met at Isa’s Bistro in the Haywood Park Hotel complex, which he owns. “This is a building that should be attractive to the community,” Fraga said. “That’s my vision.”

With help from John Tierney of Choice Hotels and Mark Mucci of Charlotte-based Mind’s Eye Architecture, Fraga laid out the plan.

“My legacy,” he called the project more than once, is a 100,000-square-foot, terraced building. The hotel would have 141 rooms, and eight condos would add private living space (including one for Fraga and his family). The project also includes conference space and parking for about 145 vehicles.

Fraga claimed that the $28 million project, once completed, will create about 100 jobs and help the local economy. He couldn’t promise a complete lack of disruption to surrounding businesses during construction, but said he plans to use Westgate’s space to help ease the effects of a major downtown project.

“We know about Asheville,” said Tierney. “The senior vice president owns a home here, so it’s very near and dear to his heart.” He added that the company’s founder also owns a home in the area. “It’s a project that’s gotten a lot of attention internally, and it’s one we’re very proud of and hope to move forward with.”

Some meeting attendees expressed support for Fraga’s project, saying that they expected something would go in the space eventually, the new plan seems carefully designed, and the early notice — with Fraga’s call for input — are appreciated.

But residents in the adjacent condominium building at 21 Battery Park voiced concern that the new hotel will hamper their view and block the sun.

Fraga replied that the construction of 21 Battery Park had blocked the natural light for many rooms in his hotel, but “that’s part of living in downtown.” He also added that the new design takes steps to mitigate the problem, with plans projecting that the part of the hotel replacing the Kostas building will be only 9 feet higher than the current structure.

But as discussions continued, the concern came up again from another 21 Battery Park resident, with a Grove Arcade resident replying that 21 Battery Park had blocked his own “iconic view” of downtown. His comment launched a brief argument about whether the concerns of tenants or owners were more important when it came to expecting their views to remain unobstructed in the future (the Grove Arcade units are rentals).

Richard Shuttleworth, who lives in the Vanderbilt Apartments about a block away, attended the event with several other tenants, and told Xpress that he had opposed Fraga’s previous project. The new one has a better design, he said. “This looks like a good project,” Shuttleworth noted. “You need something that adds to the community and that you can make money on. At first blush, this looks like it’s done both.”

Mucci repeatedly emphasized that the plans are preliminary, and the developers have yet to submit formal plans to the city of Asheville. Still, Fraga hopes to break ground in April or May and complete it the following year, he told meeting attendees.

For a report on Fraga’s previous plan, see “The Big Kibosh,” Nov. 19, 2008, Xpress.


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