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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Let market decide

The consultants’ report on a downtown hotel in Hendersonville should be regarded as good news even if the Grey Hosiery Mill is not ultimately the choice of a hotel developer.

The Development Finance Initiative, a consulting group affiliated with the UNC School of Government, was created to pursue exactly the goal the city has. It partners with local governments to attract private investment for “transformative projects.”
DFI’s report envisions a five-story hotel on the mill site with 135 rooms, 115 parking spaces, conference space for 200, a restaurant and unspecified retail space.
At the Oct. 18 unveiling of the report, someone asked how the city might use the hotel project to solve the downtown parking shortage. It won’t, City Manager John Connet responded. It was the right answer. If the city ultimately decides to partner on development at the other suggested space, the Dogwood parking lot, it would arguably be obligated to replace that many parking spaces. On Grove Street, the city is not obligated to provide extra parking because it’s not removing parking.
One factor that argues in favor of the mill site is the potential for a hotel on North Grove Street to serve as a catalyst for redevelopment of the Historic Seventh Avenue District. A site on Main Street could be more attractive for a developer but the city has no property to offer on Main Street.
A positive aspect about DFI’s business approach is that it puts great weight on the private equity side of the equation. The city would need to sell the mill property through favorable terms and make streetscape improvements to connect Grove Street two block west to Main, DFI says. Otherwise, the proposal, as we read it, relies on private investment. The council is expected to take the next step this week and direct DFI to solicit proposals for the mill site. We’re where we should be: Let the market decide.
Elsewhere in this issue, our columnist Matt Matteson, bringing his land-use planning background to bear on the issue, concludes that the mill site is all wrong because of the view from the rooms. We say it can work. In bigger cities, plenty of upscale hotels offer views of less than elegant scenery.
But we would invite the council to keep an open mind on the question of clearing the lot — bulldozing every last brick. If a vacant lot is what moves a hotel builder to lay cash on the barrel, then that’s certainly worth serious consideration.
The city has been seeking a suitor for a long time. The economy is turning in our favor. The experts say the mill property is the right site. It could catalyze a transformative Seventh Avenue revival. If the request for proposals brings an attractive proposal to the altar, the city should agree to get married.