Friday, August 29, 2014
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Opinion

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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Is Wingate best choice for mill property?

The developer who won the right to renovate the old Grey Hosiery Mill for an expanded Wingate University campus downtown seems well qualified and well intentioned.

Of the options the Hendersonville City Council members had before them last week, the college space was clearly the better choice.
Other proposals were a development of 30 loft apartments, an "artist lofts" plan for 60 units that would be rent-subsidized under an N.C. Housing Finance Agency program and an upscale market with event space.
Of the other three, the market and event space seemed promising as well but thin on detail and financing numbers.
The Wingate proposal has the benefit of a straightforward business plan. It would cost $6.7 million to renovate the 98-year-old structure, developer Robert Englander told the council, and the financial plan is based on Wingate paying $451,000 a year in rent.
Englander's team, CathFord Consultants, includes the architectural firm that guided the City Hall renovation.
The Wingate proposal won the council approval in a rare split vote. Council members Ron Stephens and Steve Caraker both said they would have voted for the 30-unit loft plan pitched by a team that included a Florida developer, Jim Hall's Investors Realty Group and Austin Fazio, also of Hendersonville. The 3-2 vote was hardly a ringing endorsement. Why the ants in their pants?
We're not usually on the side of delay but in this case delay might have been the better path.
We wonder whether the City Council has a full appreciation for how an exciting retail enterprise might really pull the traffic onto Grove Street and to Main Street and Seventh Avenue. Our idea is food and drink: a year-round seven-day-a-week festival marketplace that would include produce, dairy (cheese, smoothies, etc.), a bagel shop, coffee shop and tasting rooms for our growing beer and wine industry — Sierra Nevada, Southern Appalachian Brewery, Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards and Burntshirt Vineyards. It would be bike- and pedestrian-friendly, a convenient stop along the Berkeley Mills-Jackson Park-Ecusta Trail greenway — yes, we can see and we can dream.
We'd open-air part of the project to our Four Seasons climate, and our RFP would require the developer to set aside open space for events like Rhythm & Brews, which may have outgrown its current half-block wide venue by the time Balsam Range strokes the first fiddle string next month.
Is there enough revenue to make it go? Now, maybe not.
But it would be wise to think ahead, to that time when the housing market recovers, the economy warms up and retired baby boomers discover Hendersonville, North Carolina. The boomers, along with our current population and tourists, will be looking for a place to go.