City Council plans to review a revised proposal to redevelop the Flatiron Building in downtown Asheville at its Tuesday meeting. The revised proposal cuts the number of hotel rooms from 80 to 71, which preserves the second floor for office space.
Flatiron Preservation Group partner and developer Philip Woollcott said he believes the mixed-use space is the best option for the building. The plan includes street level retail space, along with offices and hotel lodging.
“It’s the use that gets the building preserved, but also maintains it for generations to come,” said Woollcott. “I think that’s very important for the local Asheville community to have this building restored but also put in place a business model that sustains it.”
City council members Sheneika Smith, Julie Mayfield, Brian Haynes and Keith Young spoke out against an earlier proposal during a May meeting. According to City Council minutes from the meeting, they expressed three major concerns with the proposal. They cited the oversaturation of hotels downtown, the potential issues with parking and traffic congestion, and the displacement of small businesses.
Local business owners like Victor Taylor see the proposal as a needed step to preserve the building. Taylor owns Appalachian Natural Soaps, which is right next to the Flatiron Building.
“Someone’s gonna have to purchase it that has a use for it that’s profitable,” said Taylor. He supports the proposal because he can’t think of other uses for the building in a “tourism city.”
Other small business employees disagree with the proposal.
“I don’t think that any of it should get turned into a hotel,” said Skylar Coakley. She works for Apotheca. The company moved into a new space in the Flatiron Building a few months ago.
“I think Asheville has plenty of hotels,” said Coakley. “I just think the money could be used for something better, like maintenancing the building.”
Coakley said she and her coworkers have had conversations about what they’ll do if the building sells, as the store will have to move locations.
Laura Hope-Gill is an architectural historian and an assistant professor of writing at Lenoir-Rhyne University’s campus in Asheville. Her family moved to Asheville in the 1970s. She said she’s concerned the city is losing a part of its history by converting the building into a hotel.
“It’s a spiritual, soul issue,” said Hope-Gill. “It’s not vain activism. We actually love these buildings, and we don’t want to see them turned into things that they’re not intended for, that distract us from the city’s story. Hotels don’t continue the story of the city. Offices do. Homes do.”
Hope-Gill said she wants the city to build entrepreneurship by creating affordable office space instead of a new hotel.
Developer Philip Woollcott said the new proposal's decrease in hotel rooms “allows us to keep the second floor as an office space” and maintain that part of the building’s history.
Karen Ramshaw is the vice president of Public Interest Projects. She said the company has worked on downtown revitalization projects in Asheville since 1991.
Projects like restoring the Flatiron Building are expensive, said Ramshaw. She said she hasn't heard of a “practical alternative that will allow the building to be cheap office space for the long term.”
“We don’t have a philanthropist willing to step up [and pay for the building project],” said Ramshaw. “I’m just not sure how else we’re supposed to do it. I’m worried that kicking the can down the road will be a problem [because] the building is going to be more expensive to fix.”
Woollcott said the project, ultimately, is for the people of Asheville.
“We see this preservation of this building with the use that we’re proposing first and foremost for the locals," said Woollcott. “Tourists second.”
City Council plans to review the new proposal for the Flatiron Building on Tuesday.