The Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club, Asheville’s premiere downtown music venue with a national reputation as a top music destination, is expanding.
On tap: a downstairs private club that will seat 75 to 150 people and serve cocktails on the club’s Hilliard Avenue side, and a new smoking porch of at least 400 square feet on the club’s opposite north side. On the Orange Peel’s main floor, 50 to 100 removable “box seats” will be added to stage left to allow for special seating for certain shows. Also, the long stage-left bar will be divided, with half the bar staying put and the other half moving to the opposite side of the main floor.
“To stay strong, we needed to keep improving,” says Pat Whalen, the head of Public Interest Projects Inc., a company that specializes in downtown revitalization and which breathed new life into the Orange Peel in 2002. “We want to continue to make this the best live music venue we can make it.”
To that end, the Orange Peel applied for, and won, a $300,000 loan guarantee from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority in March. The guarantee certainly helped make the project a go, Whalen says, but it was time for the club to evolve.
Liz Whalen, the club’s marketing director, adds that it was time to invest, despite the current recession.
“Asheville has a really progressive music population, and music fans that are really loyal,” she says. By bumping up the club’s capacity from 942 to about 1,200, the venue can look to draw acts that might have passed up the Orange Peel in the past. “The extra capacity puts us in the next tier of club size” on par with the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., and the NorVa in Norfolk, Va., she says.
The work started a week ago and marks about a $500,000 investment for the Orange Peel. The club sits at the corner of Hilliard and Biltmore avenues in downtown. It has a long history, first as a 1950s skating rink reborn as a home for R&B clubs featuring disco and funk. The building later saw use as an auto parts warehouse and was vacant until Public Interest Projects Inc. took interest and injected it with new life seven years ago.
Rolling Stone magazine last year named the venue a top five “best club” in the U.S. Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys, the Flaming Lips, Ben Harper and the Smashing Pumpkins have all played the Peel, an intimate space with a bouncy wooden floor and giant overhead fan.
Liz Whalen says the yet-to-be-named basement private club will serve liquor and operate as a private membership club. Douglas Maderis of Maderis Designs drew up plans for the space, she said. The porch on the opposite side of the Peel will help minimize the pedestrian traffic that can stack up on the sidewalk along Biltmore Avenue and generally improve safety, she says.
All the work is scheduled to be complete by October, Whalen says, and none of the construction should interfere with the club’s current show schedule.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor