Asheville hotelier John McKibbon on Wednesday announced that his foundation had approved a $1 million, interest-free loan to Mountain Housing Opportunities to help the local nonprofit get a beleaguered downtown development project back on track.
The project, a mixed-used development that includes apartments and retail space known as Eagle Market Place, is a partnership between Mountain Housing and Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation. The location of the project is a long-dormant area at the corner of Eagle and Market streets in downtown Asheville that, decades earlier, was once a bustling hub of African-American-owned businesses and black social life.
Eagle Market Place got going four years ago with a $7 million grant from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, as well as $3.3 million from the city of Asheville and a loan worth $300,000 from Buncombe County commissioners, who promised an extra $2 million loan once the project was complete. But structural problems with a concrete slab two years ago halted the project, and over the past two years, it’s been tied up with legal wrangling over who was at fault and how to fix it.
Earlier this year, the bad slab was torn out, but the delays have added an estimated $2 million extra to the $12 million project. The increase forced Mountain Housing to seek a change in apartment rents. The original plan was to rent all 62 of them to people who earn 60 percent or less of median income. (The cost? $251 to $776 per month, depending on the number of bedrooms; there are one-, two- and three-bedroom units planned.) But Buncombe Commissioners this summer agreed to a change to rent just 32 of the apartments to that group; the other 30 will be rented to people who make at or above median income.
McKibbon added that 7 Ton Design, a West Asheville graphic design and branding company, was also making a donation to Mountain Housing Opportunities to address affordable housing issues.
McKibbon made the announcement during a packed party at Posana Restaurant to celebrate the redevelopment of the former BB&T office building into a structure that will be home to luxury condos, a boutique hotel and two new restaurants. The new name for the complex is The Hotel Arras. (Interior demolition work has begun, and McKibbon said that nearly 25 percent of the new condo units had already been reserved. The units are selling for between half a million dollars and $1.5 million. More background on The Hotel Arras here.)
McKibbon, who praised Mountain Housing Opportunities, said he’s committed to helping the city address its affordable housing crisis. In seeking approval for The Hotel Arras before Asheville City Council, McKibbon: agreed to pay his workers a living wage; committed to nearly $1 million of sidewalk improvements around the building; and agreed to donate $250,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
After his announcement, McKibbon told me that he plans to help the city on other affordable housing projects, as well.
Scott Dedman, executive director at Mountain Housing Opportunities, was in attendance at the Wednesday night party, said the interest-free loan will save his organization a total of $100,000 in interest and will provide cash to keep the Eagle Market Place project moving. Construction crews are back on site and mostly performing below-ground infrastructure work. The project won’t really start coming out of the ground until early next year, he said.
Dedman added that the Eagle Market Place project is the most complex project, in terms of financing and construction planning, that the nonprofit has ever attempted in its nearly 30-year history. The project is aiming for completion next year.
In related news, Dedman was introducing Mountain Housing Opportunities’ new development director, Antanette Mosley, at the party. Mosley, an Asheville native, moved to Asheville after working as an attorney in Atlanta for the past 20 years. Mosley, who graduated from the Asheville School and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UNC Chapel Hill, is the daughter of Dr. Charles R. Mosley, Sr., a longtime pastor in Asheville.