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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Hotel proposals encouraging sign downtown

The city could score a home run if one of two prospects for a downtown hotel comes to pass.

At the City Council’s behest, the city sent out a request for proposals on Oct. 11 asking interested developers to submit plans for a hotel with 80 to 120 rooms and conference space for 150 to 300 people. The city has offered to sell the city-owned Dogwood parking lot at Fourth Avenue West and Washington Street and re-invest the proceeds in a parking garage that would offset the loss of 157 surface lot spaces.
The two developers that responded met the requirements the city set out.
The Charlotte-based Catellus Group proposed a 120-room five-story hotel with a 247-space parking garage, a 4,500-square-foot conference space and a first-floor lounge and restaurant.
Blue Star Hospitality of Fletcher pitched an 88-room, six-floor structure with double the conference space — 9,000 square feet — plus 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and a parking garage with 244 spaces.
Catellus, a smaller real estate developer, is currently in the planning or construction phases for “a premiere boutique hotel” in Charlotte’s trendy Dilworth neighborhood, an 85-room brand-name hotel in Shelby and an 81-room Comfort Suites hotel in Independence Township, Michigan.
Blue Star, which has built 22 hotels since its founding in 1995, boasts that it has worked with Marriott International Inc., Hilton Worldwide, Wyndham Worldwide, Choice Hotels International Inc. and Best Western International Inc.
It’s a given in an attempted public-private partnership of this magnitude that thorny details will have to be worked out.
“Obviously, part of the parking would be ours,” Mayor pro tem Ron Stephens said. “We don’t want to lose any parking spaces and I don’t think we’d have to. I’m told that one of them has the space to accommodate 200 people (for meetings). We can use the hotel and we can certainly use the meeting space, which would be an important addition to downtown. I hope it goes forward. This looks very encouraging.”
City Councilman Steve Caraker, who renovated a historic home and started his city government experience as a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, said he preferred the brick façade Catellus showed in a rendering to the composite material of Blue Star’s design.
Caraker wants the council to retain some design authority so that a hotel in downtown Hendersonville would be compatible with downtown’s historic character. That’s not only a reasonable but imperative. Among the council’s duties is to preserve downtown as an attraction, the golden goose of our small-business retail and dining economy.
The city also has the 65-foot building height cap to contend with, a result of the last attempted development of this magnitude downtown. We hope the historic preservationists realize that the nine-story Carolina Grand (nee Sunflower) was different proposition in size and location. A five-story building with a relatively compact footprint would not be out of scale on that block of Church Street.
The Dogwood Inn (to take creative license) would represent much more than a place for visitors and overflow family to lodge overnight. It could bring small conventions to downtown and add to our ever-expanding dining choices, maybe with a second penthouse or rooftop restaurant (after the new Shine). The city team — including City Manager John Connet, assistant manager Brian Pahle and downtown coordinator Lew Holloway — has a tough job ahead in filling in the details, of course. It’s a smart team and one that has been aggressive and creative in pushing for this and other improvements, including the Grey Hosiery Mill redevelopment and Seventh Avenue revitalization. With the support of the City Council, the city team should push ahead to try and consummate a hotel deal that works for the real estate developer and steps up the city’s appeal and potential.