At an Aug. 7 informational meeting at the U.S. Cellular Center, the McKibbon Hotel Group laid out its plans for a hotel and plaza on city-owned property across from the St. Lawrence Basilica in downtown Asheville.
"I want to be very transparent and very open," company head John McKibbon said, as about 80 people gathered to hear McKibbons presentation and ask questions.
The property — which features a parking lot, abandoned parking deck and a building that once housed the former Flying Frog restaurant — is currently owned by the city of Asheville. McKibbon came out with the top bid in a 2008 Request for Proposal process, but the company put the project on hiatus due to the economic downturn. However, after the Basilica made an offer on the property late last year, discussions resumed, and the McKibbon Group indicated it wished to go forward.
The issue sparked a very public controversy about what development should take place in that space, but no proposal has received final approval.
"No one has signed off on our plans at all," McKibbon emphasized. "This is just what we've come up with to address the concerns we've heard."
Contrary to assertions that downtown has too many hotels already, McKibbon contended that company numbers show occupancy rates above the national average, with demand growing 27 percent since 2010. This makes hotel development a more appealing prospect than residential, which he termed "tricky." But McKibbon noted that the company's 51 Biltmore Ave. project includes apartments.
For the property across from the Basilica, McKibbon proposes an approximately 20,000-square-foot hotel that would employ about 100 people and add an estimated $887,000 in sales-, property- and hotel-tax revenue. He also noted that the designers have tried to place roughly a football-field of distance between the new building and the Basilica. He added that he wants to turn the area in front of the hotel into a park/plaza, but that the company would need cooperation from the city and the church to make it happen.
Jill Heinberg, a designer working with McKibbon, told the audience that the company plans to use "shallow foundation" building methods that should leave the Basilica undisturbed during the construction process. In a question-and-comment period, audience members requested assurances about protecting the Basilica, more interaction with surrounding residents and making the plaza become a reality. Some praised McKibbon as a company and the designs they were seeing, though asked for more specific information going forward.
Below are images of the proposal from McKibbon's presentation.