From the outside, it’s not obvious what’s so special about 372 Depot, a new mixed-use development in Asheville’s River Arts District. Sited on a former brownfield, the 90,000-square-foot brick structure seems like just another new building with street-level retail space and apartments above. In fact, this innovative project represents a number of significant firsts for Asheville.
Years in the making, 372 Depot cost about $8.5 million to build, including roughly $1.3 million in federal housing assistance and loans from the city’s Housing Trust Fund. The nonprofit developer, Mountain Housing Opportunities, says the completed Glen Rock Depot project should boost the area’s total tax base by $15 million within the next five years.
With 9,000 square feet of commercial space and three levels of workforce housing, the new building represents phase two of Glen Rock Depot, an ambitious construction-and-renovation project involving three adjacent structures on Depot Street. Phase one — renovating the 6,400-square-foot former Corner Market — was completed in 2007 and now houses the Fine Arts League of the Carolinas. Phase three calls for renovating the historic Glen Rock Hotel to create commercial and office space.
The 60 apartments at 372 Depot were all leased within about two months to tenants winnowed from some 400 applicants. The one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments (700, 1,013 and 1,213 square feet, respectively) were awarded based on annual household income. The cap for a family of three is $29,940; for a single person, it’s $23,280. Rents (also based on income level) range from $350 to $750 per month. The units are expected to be fully occupied in time for the Dec. 2 grand opening (see box).
Glen Rock’s tenants are a varied assemblage. “A lot of our residents work at Mission [Hospital]; they are artists who are just walking to work down the street; they work in restaurants around town,” Susanne Hackett of Pollinate Consulting reports. “There are a number of young families in here, and a number of people are retired.”
Sean Bickford wanted to live in the River District, but what ultimately sold him on 372 Depot was the large amount of shared indoor and outdoor space. “You can tell already that just the layout of the building works as far as getting people together,” he notes. Bickford and his 3-year-old son recently moved from a north Asheville rental house into one of the two-bedroom units.
The building’s several thousand square feet of communal space includes a large courtyard, three levels of porches and common rooms, and a big kitchen, Community Investments Manager Cindy Weeks points out proudly. Such extensive amenities, she adds, are “really unheard of in an apartment building.”
Creature comforts aside, 372 Depot is also in line to become one of the city’s first mixed-use buildings to be certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an international green building certification system. Although MHO is aiming for basic LEED certification, “We think we’re going to get quite a bit higher than that,” Weeks reveals. Environmentally friendly features include a cistern that will catch rainwater for the property’s landscaping, water-permeable parking areas and courtyard, a highly reflective roof to reduce cooling costs, and a stormwater-detention facility to prevent runoff into the adjacent Town Branch. In addition, the nonprofit recycled 85 percent of all construction waste.
But perhaps the most striking environmental feature is 372 Depot’s solar hot-water system. Each apartment has its own 4-by-10-foot solar panel on the roof. Together, they’re expected to produce about 2,400 gallons of hot water per day, reducing electricity used to heat water by 80 to 90 percent and meeting total demand on all but the coldest and rainiest days.
How do solar panels work? The sun’s energy heats a fluid similar to antifreeze that’s run through a series of tubes within the panel. The fluid is piped down to boilers, where its energy is transferred to the water. The cooled fluid then flows back up to the roof for reheating. The system is also expected to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 29 tons per year — the equivalent of planting 8,500 trees or taking 13 cars off the road, notes Weeks.
Even more remarkably, MHO was able to create the $270,000 system — the largest of its kind serving a multifamily development in North Carolina — at absolutely no up-front cost. In a complex financial deal, the nonprofit leased the system from a subsidiary of FLS Energy, an Asheville-based solar company. In return for installing and maintaining the system, the subsidiary will receive substantial state and federal tax credits. Both FLS and the system’s other investors will also be able to claim money for the energy 372 Depot doesn’t use through a power-purchase agreement with Duke Power. That arrangement will help Duke satisfy a state mandate that utilities derive a set percentage of their total energy output from renewable sources. In addition, MHO will pay about $17 per unit per month for the solar-thermal energy.
Meanwhile, two businesses are set to open at 372 Depot this month. The Magnetic Field, a combination café/lounge/performance space featuring a 64-seat theater, is expected to open its doors by Dec. 1. West One Salon, moving from its current downtown location, hopes to follow suit later in December. An additional 4,500 square feet of commercial space is still available.
— Freelance writer Christopher George lives in Spartanburg, S.C.