Threatening Guastavino’s rose

The power brokers of Asheville are at work again. If you thought the only indignities left to tarnish the most important building remaining in the city consist of graffiti, traffic, bad condo design and poor sanitation, take a look at the out-sized hotel under construction on the former Chamber of Commerce site, just down the street from the world-famous architecture of the Basilica of St. Lawrence. How could any alert City Council allow such a treasure to be tarnished by the foolishness of approving a 10-story, undistinguished hotel to be erected just down the street—literally a rose stabbed by a thorn?

Now pressures build to make the same mistake again, this time with a grade-C hotel (the last design called for a colored-brick façade) just across the street from the Basilica—once again flinging trash at Rafael Guastavino’s masterpiece.

It couldn’t happen, you say: They couldn’t be pressured into making the same mistake again. Remember the great magnolia across from City Hall? Remember that we were one of the few cities that gloried in a living green meadow across from that award-winning City Hall? Now that same City Hall faces a sea of concrete, including a bevy of faux Greek columns, ending in just another salute to American bad-taste-in-action. Remember that the Thomas Wolfe historical-site house is now dwarfed by the neighboring condo, hence vanishing in the shadow of a glittering, too-big structure (it led to the rumor that attendance is down at My Old Kentucky Home because of waning national interest in Thomas Wolfe).

The Basilica remains the single-most important building in the city and should be treated with care and concern. A grade-C hotel brings in little money, but the visitors to the Basilica would continue to be responsible for uncounted treasures to the coffers of Asheville. Don’t allow this artistic treasure to be destroyed: Instead, finance a park dedicated to what’s left of Asheville’s architectural history, and [serving as] a salute to the trees cut down across from City Hall.

— Peter Loewer

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22 thoughts on “Threatening Guastavino’s rose

  1. Hashtag re-up

    I agree. The Basilica is located in a downtown area. We can’t block other buildings from being built in its presence. Let them buy the lot themselves. Otherwise, that’s a useless lot, and an eyesore as it currently is, and something may as well be built in that location.
    At what distance in a downtown area should we be able to view the basilica? It’s silly.

  2. Gordon Smith

    I have yet to see any details on the McKibbon project, so we’ll have a clearer picture once they emerge.

    If McKibbon Group is planning on providing affordable housing or a top notch green facility, then there’s a conversation to be had. However, simply throwing up another high-end hotel does little to benefit the people of Asheville. The Indigo, Ellington, and Aloft hotels are certainly more than enough for our tiny downtown. What we need is housing for our working citizens.

    I’ll look forward to finding out more.

  3. travelah

    High end hotels provide jobs and tax revenues to the city, so there is considerable benefit to the people of Asheville. Whether it is a “top notch green facility” or not doesn’t change the benefit picture to the city. What kind of “affordable housing” should be built on that spot or one like it? Condominiums? Subsidized public housing? Section 8 apartments? What do you mean by “affordable housing”?

  4. travelah

    …. some additional thoughts. Instead of trying to determine what is acceptable to the vocal minority, perhaps they cold identify what is not acceptable to build in downtown Asheville and we can go from there. If Gordon is going to oppose a hotel facility, it would be beneficial for him to identify those business activities and investments he would ban from the downtown area. That would give us a good stating point to assess his perspective especially since he desires public office and wishes to impact these matters.

  5. Cecil Bothwell

    I note that the picture offered by (the anonymous) AvlResident shows a church that overshadows the surrounding undistinguished buildings and the photo is evidently taken down a broad thoroughfare with an unimpeded view of the structure. None of that will be the case with the proposed McKibbon plan.

    The comment by (the anonymous) Hashtag suggests that ANYTHING would be better than nothing built on the current parking area. Yet there are clearly differences in structures and uses, and that space was recommended as a park space more than a decade ago, as part of a triad with City/County and Pritchard. Some months ago over 2,000 people signed a petition endorsing a park. There’s nothing wrong with the size and scale of the current structures on the site (though the buildings are apparently deemed unworthy of restoration.) If new buildings are in order, why should they necessarily be taller? Is there a secret rule somewhere that we haven’t been shown?

    The comment by (the anonymous) Travelah assumes benefits to the city that might be illusory. Jobs in a hotel are low-end and the service people in a hotel can’t generally afford downtown rents. The addition of traffic and other infrastructure demands may actually cost taxpayers more than the tax revenue generated. (Across the country the “growth” of tax bases ALWAYS brings INCREASES in property taxes. ALWAYS.) Construction jobs for the building may very well go to out-of-state workers with experience and skills in high-rise construction.

    Gordon Smith has the courage to speak on the record and to offer reasonable criteria for judging the worth of the project. His comments are worth consideration.

    For my part, I believe the proposed building is out of scale with the site. Most of the people I have met in my three decades in Asheville love the downtown views of our surrounding mountains. Each time we whack off a piece of that vista we carve up our personal and public landscape and decrease the pleasure of the tourists that support so much of our economy. People who would rather look at tall buildings instead of mountains have lots of options. Let’s hold on to what we’ve got.

  6. who

    Hey Cecil, whether the poster is anonymous or not isn’t relative. Don’t make it a criterea for an argument. Just because you don’t know who posted doesn’t make a view less valid.

  7. AshevilleObserver

    Mr. Bothwell should consider that some people remain “anonymous” because their egos don’t require their names to be posted on placards and signs throughout the city. As “Who” says, the anonymity of the poster isn’t relative to the validity of the opinion. To suggest otherwise, is called an “ad hominem” argument.

    Even with a building, of whatever size, on the point of land in question, the Basillica will still overshadow – aesthetically – the surrounding undistinguished buildings around it, as it does the Civic Center. Haywood St itself will still be the “broad thoroughfare with an unimpeded view of the structure.” Google Maps makes that quite clear:

  8. AshevilleObserver

    And so as not to offend Mr. Bothwell, no more comments on this matter, except to repeat my original questions (which were genuine questions, not rhetorical ones, for which I hoped to have answers):
    Do all distinguished pieces of urban architecture have unimpeded views or parks across from them?

    Why don’t the supporters of a park across from St. Lawrence band together and buy the property they want for a park as a gift to the city?

  9. hauntedheadnc

    You’re advocating a dangerous precedent, Cecil. There’s land that is suited for park land downtown and there is land suited for buildings. This particular land is suited for park land, in my opinion. However, you’re trotting out the argument I’ve heard so many times that, to preserve mountain views, we shouldn’t build anything anywhere downtown.

    Or at least nothing tall, which means that if something does get built it stays short and small, which means that structure’s rents stay high. The cost of land won’t allow anyone to build an affordably-priced short building downtown. At least with a taller building, the option is there even if developers don’t utilize it.

  10. travelah

    Cecil, Gordon Smith is advocating himself and should be expected to post under his name as you are doing likewise. There is nothing anonymous about myself. All you need do is email me. However, as one has already noted, whether using a moniker or name, the arguments are not lessened or enhanced. It is a common argument that hotels and service industries pay low end scale wages however that is not altogether true. The pay scales, I suspect, are a bit higher than the average service industry job in the area. You are also advancing an assertion without much of a foundation regarding the notion that an increased tax base always increases property taxes. In the sense that total revenues go up, you are right. If you are suggesting that everybody’s tax bill goes up when a substantial boost in the tax base is put in place, you have some evidence to present. I realize that has become a common argument among the anti-business crowd (even without credible evidence to support it) but since when has the anti-business crowd had concern over raising taxes??
    As I asked earlier, what are those businesses you seek to ban in the downtown area? Give us a starting point to work with. If you are looking for a nirvana of low income housing downtown, go to the foot of Coxe and look up. Is that what you are looking for in the middle of downtown? If not, spell it out so developers know how to proceed. Otherwise it can only be assumed you oppose everything except organic seed shops and subsidized housing. Paint us a picture of Cecil’s Asheville Nirvana.

  11. Cecil Bothwell

    To address the small thing first: I have always posted under my own name, long before I was running for office. It has always seemed to me that our opinions are only valid if we put all our cards on the table, and signing our names lets others evaluate what we say based on public knowledge about our stake in the conversation.

    I am not opposed to all building (I’m a builder) nor opposed to tall buildings per se. The proposed DTMP properly suggests that lower elevations are better for taller buildings in our city (although it compromises itself in the Appendix, abruptly recommending the tallest buildings for the highest points — hello?) There are lots of places in town that work for 4-6 story buildings, and others that would be great for 8 or 10. What I don’t think we need are 26 story towers jutting up between four story neighbors (the Ellington), or massive buildings that crowd the view of our architectural icons. The proposed Parkside building, for example, blocks the view corridor from the Vance Monument to the City Hall (in explicit violation of the Conservancy guidelines).

    Developers love to trot out the myth that they can’t make the numbers work if they build smaller buildings, but that is patently untrue. Consider the Deal Buick property, where Chris Peterson insisted they had to have 10 or 11 story towers to make money. Somehow the Pioneer building at 190 Broadway, exactly as far from downtown, is turning a profit at four stories.

    And the high-rise mega-projects that I have opposed do not include affordable units (which as HauntedheadNC points out might be an option). They are all high-end condos or hotels. While it’s true that such buildings may become Section 8 housing in a few decades (viz. The Battery Park), that isn’t the same thing as creating affordable housing today.

    As for the suggestion that growth benefits us all.

    “Speaking recently at the launch of a ground-breaking report by the Sustainable Development Commission, Prosperity Without Growth?, Professor Tim Jackson said “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries, but question it we must. The myth of growth has failed us. It has failed, spectacularly, in its own terms, to provide economic stability and secure people’s livelihoods”. The report concluded “the narrow pursuit of growth represents a horrible distortion of the common good and of underlying human values. The market was not undone by rogue individuals or the turning of a blind eye by incompetent regulators. It was undone by growth itself”.

  12. hauntedheadnc

    Cecil, would you be at all more amenable to tall buildings if affordability was a required part of the development?

    I am all for urban growth at the expense of suburban growth. I think that Asheville, especially with its unique burden of the Sullivan Acts, should be doing all it can to attract growth to the central city where it actually will benefit the community. Urban growth means people walking, not driving. It means more customers for downtown shops and restaurants and more patrons at artistic venues.

    Suburban growth, on the other hand, just means houses on mountainsides and cars on the roads as all those people drive into the city to work and shop and do everything else.

    And that’s why, in the interest of urban growth, I am all for tall buildings downtown. I think the threat is not height, but bad architecture. We already have ample proof that tall buildings can be beautiful, while short buildings can be abominable. I’d take the Jackson Building or the Battery Park Apartments over 21 Battery Park or 12 S. Lexington any day.

    Getting back to my point, I just don’t see how a building downtown (the Pioneer Building is not what I would call exactly expensive, plus it’s not in the heart of the city) can be short and affordable. To even break even, the shorter the building, the higher the unit price.

    As I see it, and would prefer to see it, taller buildings with appropriately interesting architecture should be encouraged and welcomed if the developer agrees to make affordable housing part of the building. Add two or three floors of smaller living units decked out with fixtures not quite as high-end as the ten floors of “luxury” condos you wanted to build anyway.

  13. hauntedheadnc

    By the way, I guess I should point out that I’m all for growth and totally against sprawl. The two aren’t the same. They’re not even within spitting distance of one another.

    Growth is the city expanding in a thoughtful way that provides new opportunities. Sprawl is parasites attaching themselves to the flanks of the city.

  14. hauntedheadnc

    I also meant to say that the Pioneer Building is not what I would call “inexpensive.” Apologies.

  15. Haunted, I’d say the only question where you and I might differ a bit is on potential height limits.

    As for downtown versus sprawl, I’d like to see that embodied in our height rules. If the argument is up instead of out, I would require that height above some level (to be determined by community debate) require preservation of some quantity of land in the surrounding area via permanent conservation easement. That would make the commitment real.

    I am entirely in favor of walkable communities, but I believe that given the emerging energy picture that should include vertical walkability. I have heard the argument that elevators are cheaper to operate than vehicles, but in a carbon constrained world even the electricity for elevators is an important issue to be considered.

  16. MB

    I think the proposal is out of scale for the site…and short sighted to the point of hilariousity.Am I the only person who has noticed the smoking crater formally know as our economy?The supply of capital to fund such projects is plummeting, and the view a few years out is terrifying.The nation is hemorrhaging jobs at roughly 500k a month, with no end in sight.
    We have very serious “corrections” to our lifestyles looming…and yet we build more hotels???You have to be kidding me.The economic doom that is to come will reduce visitors to a trickle, and the ones that come will be tight with their money.And many of us will lose our homes.The work hour reductions and furloughs many company’s are using now may end as permanent closures.You would think someone might notice this, and plan accordingly for our future..but no.As always, the city is selling out to the developers.Gee, that staple’s wall sure is nice,eh?More lameness from the lamesters is hardly a surprise.

  17. hauntedheadnc

    Considering that it would be easy enough to operate an elevator using electricity from the sun or wind — not something you can really use to run a car’s engine, I still don’t think that height is the terrifying boogeyman it’s made out to be in Asheville.

    I also think that if downtown was built on level ground, people wouldn’t have such a horror of tall buildings if they could see how tall some of the buildings downtown really are. We just don’t notice it because there’s practically no flat ground anywhere around here, and plenty of taller buildings are located downhill.

  18. who

    Cecil, back to the small thing: discounting the merit of an argument that you don’t agree with because the writer is anonymous is disingenuous. You pretty much reiterated what was already observed: an anonymous opinion has no worth. Maybe the forums can have a thread on the pros and cons of anonymous postings.

  19. I agree that anoynymous posting is a separate issue, but not that it’s disingenuous to consider the source of an argument. Suppose you, who, are actually Mr. McKibbon. You would have a very specific stake in this discussion, and absent that identification you would be, at least in some small sense, defrauding those discussing the issue.

    Anonymous posting finally made Topix such a vast wasteland that the Citizen-Times had to drown it.

    Notwithstanding anonymity, I think discussions like this are of high value and I am pleased to civilly disagree with and learn from others.

  20. who

    Anybody who votes has a stake in this discussion-whether you know them are not. And I’d even bend on that for the value of one’s good opinion. And it would be pretty obvious if someone is hiding behind a moniker to be a knucklehead. I am guessing that you would be able to discern this by tone and sincerity. But, since you have a problem with anonymous input, when you are up for election you can cancel all the votes that you can’t place a name to. I’m done. By the way, I am a soon to be property owner in the 28806 zip code.

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