A partnership between Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. and Mountain Housing Opportunities in Asheville has secured funding for an $11.1 million, 90,000-square-foot mixed-use development with affordable rental housing, commercial space and community facilities.
The N.C. Housing Finance Agency in August awarded the final $7 million to ensure construction of Eagle Market Place moves forward. The community revitalization effort that has been 23 years in the making includes the renovation of three historic buildings and construction of one new building. The City of Asheville and Buncombe County previously agreed to contribute $4.1 million to the project.
Eagle Market Place is located in the historically African American neighborhood near Eagle and South Market streets in downtown Asheville. The area was once known as Asheville’s “Black Wall Street” because of the large number of African American-owned businesses and the economic strength of the community. But federal urban renewal programs in the 1950s and 1960s weakened the area’s economy. Since then, a variety of organizations have proposed strategies to revitalize it.
Two years ago, Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. approached Mountain Housing Opportunities (MHO) about a partnership.
“Until Eagle Market Streets and MHO came together as co-developers of this property, it seemed fated to never come to fruition,” said Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, executive director of Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. “This is the first iteration that has garnered the support of local government, state government and community members to bring about the revitalization that the community has sought for about 23 years.”
Prior to urban renewal, the neighborhood boasted 70 homes and 15-20 small minority-owned businesses. Today, the properties are largely abandoned. The revitalization effort will create 62 rental units in the neighborhood, with rents ranging from $200-$780, and 7,000 square feet of commercial space, enough to restore the 15-20 small businesses.
Swepson-Twitty said that the key to moving the project forward was finding the right partnerships. Scott Dedman, executive director of Mountain Housing Opportunities, said that persistence and solid market analysis were critical.
An independent market study demonstrated huge demand for apartments at Eagle Market Place – as many as 2,220 families who would be interested in the 62 apartments. More than 10,000 people work within one mile of the Eagle Market Place site. Most earn less than $40,000 a year, which is the target income market for the apartments.
“If you’ve got a good property, good location, good proposal, then the key is that you know that the market is there for your end product,” said Dedman. “We know it is for our 62 affordable, workforce apartments. My advice [to other community developers] would be to be persistent. You will be able to win support for something that’s going to dramatically improve a neighborhood and serve a big need in the community.”
The revitalization project will create about 500 construction jobs over the 18-24-month construction period and 50 permanent jobs in businesses that locate there. Construction is scheduled to begin in June. North Carolina contractors, including local contractors, will be sought for the work. Minority- and women-owned businesses will be recruited to locate in the commercial spaces.
“Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation has taken on the charge to be an economic engine in Asheville and Buncombe County,” said Swepson-Twitty, “and I think that this project will put us in a very good position to be just that – a real economic engine that will bring jobs and residences and businesses to an area that is very much in need.”
The renovations and new construction will be built to Energy Star standards and will be handicapped accessible throughout. In addition to residential and commercial space, the property will include an indoor playground, laundry facilities, fitness center, computer and business center, leasing office, a large multi-purpose room with a full kitchen, a covered drop-off area and a youth center.
“In addition to creating attractive and convenient apartments in downtown Asheville – the workplace center of Buncombe County – our goal is to restore the vitality and proud history of the Eagle Market Streets neighborhood,” said Dedman. “We believe this is our opportunity as a community to achieve this goal.”
For more information about Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation, visit www.eaglemarketstreets.org/about_us.html. For more information about Mountain Housing Opportunities, an Initiative 2012 Core Operating Investment recipient, visit www.mountainhousing.org.
The N.C. Community Development Initiative leads North Carolina’s collaborative community economic development effort, driving innovation, investment and action to create prosperous, sustainable communities. For more information, visit www.ncinitiative.org.