A nonprofit organization that’s been working for years to revitalize the Eagle and Market streets in the city’s urban core won approval from Asheville City Council this week to move ahead with planning a proposed $15 million renovation of two existing structures and the construction of a 10-story building behind them.
Council gave the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation the go-ahead to explore a partnership with officials representing three companies that would combine talents under one banner, which would be called Eagle Market Renaissance, LLC. The proposal calls for that yet-to-be-formed company to team with the nonprofit as the equity partner in ownership.
Despite the complicated partnership, a slow real-estate market, and the organization’s spotty record of accomplishment at redeveloping Eagle and Market streets over the past 14 years, key players say they’re excited about the plan.
Sherman Golden, executive vice president of the real-estate-development-company Em Johnson Interest Inc. said he’s “very confident we can replicate the success” of other urban redevelopment projects he’s been a part of in cities such as San Francisco and Birmingham.
Golden and his company propose to link up with Sylvia Farrington, president of consulting company Asheville Global Services Group Inc., and Tayani Suma, president of Atlanta-based Mission Redevelopment, another development company. The three would form Eagle Market Renaissance, which would oversee the renovation of the Del Cardo and Collette buildings on Eagle Street. The partnership would also oversee the construction of a 10-story mixed-use building with 46 condo units and 4,000 square feet of commercial space on a vacant lot behind the two older buildings.
Suma said the Eagle Market Renaissance group plans to use some federal money, including community development block grant money and Housing and Urban Development Section 108 money, to help fund the project. She said that if everything goes according to plan, ground won’t be broken on the project until 2010, noting that that the group will also be keeping a close eye on the economy and the real estate market.
At a July 21 meeting at the YMI Cultural Center, at the corner of Eagle and Market streets, about 50 residents listened to Suma, Golden and Farrington present their plan. Harry Harrison, executive director of the YMI, said he hoped the project would be unique to Asheville, and he questioned whether the condo units would be affordable. Suma said some of the one- and two-bedroom condos would be “lower-priced properties,” while others would be sold at market rates. There are no rental units in the plans.
Johnnie Grant, an Asheville native and publisher of the Urban News newspaper, echoed Harrison’s concerns about the affordability of the proposed condo units.
“I know it’s about economics,” Grant said, “but first of all, you need to think about the people that are here.”
Local residents refer to the Eagle and Market street area, known as the historic home to Asheville’s African-American business community, as The Block. It’s redevelopment has languished, though, while downtown Asheville has witnessed a rebirth over the last two decades. City Council empowered the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation to oversee redevelopment in the area when it was created in 1994. Since then, it has acquired several buildings and renovated 70 S. Market St.
In 2004, a planned public-private partnership to renovate the Collette and Campbell buildings and build a new building on a vacant lot for $6.6 million fell apart. The plan spurred a lawsuit and failed to gain the support of City Council, in part because at the time some council members said they felt the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. had failed to be inclusive of all the stakeholders in the area.
Marvin Chambers, chair-elect of the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., noted that there have been a “number of promises and projects” over the years, but he urged residents to put their time and energy into the project. “We need to become involved.”
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor