OM Sanctuary buys Richmond Hill Inn site

The Oshun Mountain Sanctuary, a nonprofit “dedicated to creating a center for rejuvenation,” has purchased the site of the former Richmond Hill Inn. The group, in partnership with RiverLink, announced the purchase today, with the intent of raising $5 million more to complete construction of its project.

According to records from the Buncombe County Register of Deeds, OM Sanctuary — a nonprofit registered with the state on June 20 — purchased the site for $4.5 million. Today, Aug. 1, an announcement from RiverLink, a partner of OM Sanctuary in the project, claims the project fulfills goals for the river area by creating a center to showcase alternative wellness techniques.

The inn, a local landmark, burned down in a 2009 arson that remains unsolved to this day.

Full announcement is below:

Oshun Mountain Sanctuary, Inc. (OM Sanctuary), the new owner of the iconic former Richmond Hill Inn, is a non-profit dedicated to creating a center for rejuvenation that provides wellness programs and experiences to renew the body, mind and spirit, reconnecting individuals with themselves, their community, and nature.  As people look for ways to de-stress and re-educate themselves on wellness, locations offering a beautiful setting coupled with life enhancement programs, contemplative space, mindful living, healthy food, body/mind centered classes (such as yoga), and spa services all in a unified complex are gaining in worldwide popularity. OM Sanctuary, when completed, will be one of these beautiful destination places to rest and renew.

Funds to help purchase the property were donated by Shelli and Brad Stanback’s philanthropic fund and other generous donors.

According to the previous owners of Richmond Hill Inn, the Michel Family, “OM Sanctuary is a project that we as a family believe in. Richmond Hill Inn was a labor of love for our family – our gift to the community of serenity and beauty coupled with wonderful food and preservation of the 1889 Victorian Mansion built by Richmond Pearson that we rehabilitated to honor and preserve a piece of the rich history of WNC.  OM Sanctuary, we believe, represents the next generation of what Asheville is and has been noted for – health, wellness and rejuvenation.”

OM Sanctuary is the brainchild of Shelli Lodge Stanback, OM Sanctuary Board Chair and a long time advocate for the “Whole Person and Whole Planet” concept.  For over 25 years she has been an event coordinator and practitioner bringing transformation and wellness arts to the Asheville area.  Shelli and her husband Brad have a long history of dedicated efforts toward land preservation and restoration projects including their long time support of RiverLink.

“I always knew Asheville, with its nurturing mountains, streams, and outstanding talent sprinkled throughout the region, would be an amazing location for a wellness-oriented retreat center,” offers Shelli Stanback.  “The inspiration to pursue this project came while standing quietly near the Richmond Hill Inn gardens.  Maybe it was all the love the Michels poured into the property but in that moment, I could see the Sanctuary with all its potential.”

To jump-start OM Sanctuary’s operations, the non-profit hired Zimmer Associates International to conduct a weeklong charette in June to outline the variety of functions that OM Sanctuary will embrace and offer to the public.  Zimmer Associates International is a design and real estate consultation company specializing in hotels, resorts, wellness spas, private residences and commercial buildings. They utilize natural design principles to create living environments that align earth, mind and spirit and enhance their natural and cultural settings. 

“We are honored to be a part of the co-creative regeneration of this most special site,” said Bob Zimmer.  “Oshun Mountain Sanctuary embodies the next model for the cohesive union of a Destination Retreat and a Community Wellness Center. It fills a need in Asheville as an uplifting unifying club and community complex.”

Complementing the work of the Zimmer team is Sarah Susanka, FAIA, an English-born, American-based architect and author of nine best-selling books.  Susanka is the originator of the “Not So Big” philosophy of residential architecture, which aims to “build better, not bigger.”  Susanka, who has been credited with initiating the small house movement, has signed on as a consultant to the OM Sanctuary project as well as becoming design architect for the Life Enhancement Center.  The center will be located where the Pearson Mansion was located.

OM Sanctuary has also hired Debra Roberts of Heron Productions LLC, a local multi-media company that produces beautiful and compelling media pieces.

RiverLink is also a partner in the development of OM Sanctuary as well as fiscal agent for the new non-profit and taking donations specified for OM Sanctuary.  Karen Cragnolin, executive director of RiverLink, will serve as secretary to the OM Sanctuary Board of Directors.  The Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan developed by RiverLink and adopted by area governments and civic groups is a 17-mile demonstration project for the French Broad River Watershed linking a series of destinations into a multi-modal transportation corridor.

The OM Sanctuary synergizes with The Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan and helps implement the plan’s tri-fold economic development strategy for the watershed which focuses on recreation, the arts, and health and rejuvenation and promotes conservation of our waterways as well as mixed-use, mixed-income development along multi-modal transportation corridors.  According to Cragnolin,

“Magic occurs when philanthropy, an adopted and respected plan and a great idea based on community legacy, history and values merge. When you add the French Broad River’s rebirth and water to this mix you create rejuvenation and renewal as well as synergy, jobs, health and a sustainable project.  We are calling this potent mix the OM Sanctuary.”

RiverLink’s economic consultant for the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay, Don Zuchelli, recommended that “a center for excellence” be created along the river to showcase the vast variety of alternative and complementary wellness options available traditionally in Asheville and Western North Carolina. OM Sanctuary will be developed as that center of excellence envisioned in the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan.

RiverLink will also hold conservation easements over much of the undeveloped portion of the 50-plus acres that comprise the future OM Sanctuary grounds.  As part of this new venture, RiverLink has secured through donations of land, grants and loans the east sides of the Pearson Bridge leading to the former Richmond Hill Inn, now OM Sanctuary. The Michel family donated approximately 1.2 acres on the north side of the bridge to RiverLink.  The south side of the bridge, which houses a tire store, was purchased from Bruce and Sandi Henderson through a grant and loan from a private donor.  The Robertson family granted RiverLink an easement for the part of the Tire Store on the southern corner of the bridge that encroached on their adjoining property.

Riverside Park also had a boathouse and carousel.

The Pearson Bridge, leading to OM Sanctuary, was the location of the old Riverside Park built by the Asheville Electric Company in 1904.  Trolleys, powered by the electricity generated by hydro plants on the French Broad River, ran from downtown and West Asheville to the old Riverside Park. Riverside Park was a destination that showed movies on the banks of the river that could only be seen from a boat. 

Riverside Park was partially destroyed by a fire in 1915 and completely destroyed by the tragic flood of 1916.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the City of Asheville operated a landfill on these properties.  RiverLink is working with DENR’s Brownfield Program to examine the level of contamination at these sites and develop a clean-up scenario that can be replicated throughout the watershed and river on the other parts of the former city owned landfill.  RiverLink will also seek to lease the former tire store on the southernmost corner to a commercial outfitter who will offer guided fishing trips and rent boats and bikes to the many users of the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay.

Another influence and partner in developing the OM Sanctuary into a sustainable non-profit entity is the Small Business Technology Development Center (SBTDC.)  The SBTDC is North Carolina’s leading resource for growing and developing businesses.

Annice Brown, Deputy Director of SBTDC, serves on the OM Sanctuary Board of Directors.  She is also Vice President of the Natural Products Association in NC.  The NC Natural Products Association builds on the region’s rich history of medicinal and therapeutic plants and is natural ally in OM Sanctuary’s mission.  SBTDC will be working with RiverLink as well as OM Sanctuary to identify business locations along the river for natural products production and sale.

The SBTDC is a program of The University of North Carolina System, and a partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which has made SBTDC a unique and valued asset in the economic development of our state and in the formulation of the OM Sanctuary.  Annice Brown says, “The SBTDC is proud to partner with RiverLink, Shelli and Brad Stanback, other donors and the Michel family to create OM Sanctuary which will have a huge economic impact in our region generating approximately 50-60 jobs in the wellness, hospitality, and tourism sectors.”

Larry Cammarata, Ph.D. is serving as Vice-Chair of the OM Sanctuary Board of Directors.  He is a Clinical Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Skyland Behavioral Health Associates.  Cammarata is a frequent lecturer on the importance of mind and body harmony.   

Cammarata said, “OM Sanctuary will become a world-class retreat destination and wellness resource for individuals and groups from near and afar, while also significantly contributing to land preservation and the economy of Asheville.”

The OM Sanctuary board worked closely with the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County to release historic deed restrictions placed on the property when the Preservation Society sold the Richmond Pearson Victorian mansion to the Michel Family in February 1987.  Vicky Jenkins, owner of an adjacent property, also released deed restrictions her family held on the property so that the sale to OM Sanctuary could be concluded.

The Preservation Society saved the famous 1889 Victorian Mansion from demolition and moved it to its current location after purchasing the initial seven acres to locate and save the mansion.  The Michel Family assembled an additional 45-plus acres when they owned the property.  In 1989 the Michels opened 12 guest rooms in the mansion and Gabrielle’s Restaurant, Asheville’s first 5–star restaurant.  In 1991 they opened the nine cottage rooms known as the Croquet Courts.  In 1996 they opened the Garden Pavilion after an April 9, 1995 arson burned the original Garden Pavilion to the ground.  A March 9, 2009 still unsolved arson destroyed the 1889 Victorian Mansion.

OM Sanctuary has already had incredible community support to raise the funds necessary to purchase the Richmond Hill Inn property.  They have approximately $5 million more to raise before they can open the doors as the wellness-oriented retreat center.  Their plan is to start with the deferred maintenance and clean up of the burned site where Pearson Mansion once stood.  As the funding comes in, they will start the renovations on the existing buildings, build the movement center, spa, and eventually the Life Enhancement Center.

With the help of the WNC community acting and working together on this project, everyone can have something spectacular that Asheville (and our state) can call “OM”.


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