ASHEVILLE — The lights have come on at Asheville’s newest downtown hotel. And after years of rehabbing a set of aging buildings once headed for demolition, few are more satisfied than developer David Tart.
“With this project, I felt like every day we had a significant challenge with buildings that were here 100 years ago,” Tart said, recalling a fix that came after one of the existing buildings near South Market Street which had no prior foundation.
“It was hard to ever relax and keep a very close eye on making sure the right decisions were made to preserve the buildings, but also to create the unique guest experience we’re trying to do here,” he said.
On Tuesday, The Foundry Hotel, part of Hilton Worldwide’s Curio collection, opened its doors at 51 S. Market St. The 87-room luxury boutique hotel connected three contiguous buildings bounded by Eagle, South Market and South Spruce streets on The Block, Asheville’s historically black business district. It opens with a 100-seat restaurant called Benne on Eagle, run by Rhubarb owner and Chef John Fleer.
Tart, a partner in Charleston, South Carolina-based Encore Lodging, said the project came with a degree of “unpredictability.” The site’s previous owner, the nearby Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, had planned to demolish the three existing buildings on the land after failing to find a partner to redevelop them.
Tart said his company offered a project that blended the area’s industrial history — it sits on a site once occupied by Asheville Supply & Foundry Co., a steel mill which manufactured steel for the Biltmore Estate — with “warm hospitality.” The site was sold to developers in 2014 for $3.5 million.
He added the company also was “very cognizant” of the neighborhood’s ties to black culture in Asheville. He said they worked diligently to find a local restaurant partner in Fleer to craft an entity that pays tribute to local black chefs from the community’s history.
“We really did embrace what The Block was and we did our best, as developers, to preserve that history and develop the whole project,” Tart said.
The hotel is part of a series of ongoing revitalization efforts in the neighborhood.
Near the Foundry is the mixed-use Eagle Market Place development, completed in May, and the 67-unit 55 South Market project, which anticipates a 2019 opening date. It soon will include upgrades to the nearby YMI Cultural Center and the Del Cardo Building after both were awarded grants this year for projects by the Tourism Product Development Fund overseen by county tourism officials.
Tart said the nearly four-year project had its share of moments that will allow him to “look back and smile.” He had another instance where a tree had grown into the side of one of the buildings, challenging its structural integrity.
Ultimately, it cost roughly $30,000 to correct it, he said.