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Asheville: 'The Block' in the News Again

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/18/03)


By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - A near standing-room-only crowd filled a conference room in Asheville's Public Works Building Monday night as residents from across the city weighed in on a redevelopment proposal for "The Block."

Just south of Pack Square, The Block has been a long- standing focal point for community redevelopment. A historic district, the area was once the commercial center for the African-American community.

Debate on the proposal heated up earlier this month after nearby property owners lobbied Asheville City Council to slow down funding the redevelopment. Then, council postponed a decision to approve $1.1 million in funding to Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp., which is coordinating redevelopment efforts.

Elizabeth Russell, the corporation's executive director, said the entire $6 million proposal includes rehabilitating historical buildings, constructing 47 rental apartments, constructing more than 14,000 square feet of business space and adding tenant parking.

Monday night, some property owners still had questions, and their concerns were added to a battery of others, including whether a public hearing is planned, how many minority contractors would be hired and how much the developer could receive in fees.

David Rogers of Historical Acquisitions LLC, the developer for the project, said his company would get $300,000 in standard investment fees. He also said plans are under way for a job fair next month to help recruit minority contractors.

"These buildings will be returned to the community," he said. "Eagle/Market will get their money back."

And while the debate was often heated, organizers received rounds of applause for their efforts, which some say will make real a decades-old dream of bringing The Block back to life.

"We were down there, cleaning it up when nobody else cared," said Willie Brown, who carried photo albums filled with pictures of how The Block used to look.

"It's time for the development to take place," said James Geter, the corporation's chairman and president. "We're tired of seeing nothing happen in our community.

"All of this breathes life. Sometimes you can't understand why someone would be against breathing life into the community."

Construction could begin as soon as the organization receives council's latest group of public funding. Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal again at today's 3 p.m. work session. Corporation officials also said they plan to start holding public meetings every month on the redevelopment plan.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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