Anyone could easily be excited about the $11.1 million dollars coming to the Eagle-Market Street redevelopment project and yet how many know what a long hard battle this has been? Since it’s incorporation in 1994, the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation (EMSDC) has worked to resolve issues in this area of downtown Asheville and restore the vibrancy of its past. “We are seeking to embrace history while looking to the future,” shares Stephanie Twitty, President and CEO of the EMSDC. This project is about much more than redeveloping run down buildings in an area that has become unpopular and graffiti ridden. It is about breathing life back into a vital part of Asheville’s history that can build a new future for many.
Turn back time and imagine a township within the city limits of Asheville that was fully self-sustaining. The Eagle-Market Streets neighborhood had its own grocery, drug store, school system, hospital, library, doctors and lawyers, clubs and restaurants, gas station among the myriad of black owned businesses as well as 65-75 homes. It was an exciting, thriving community for hundreds of people that were on the verge of incorporating into their own township, Dickson Town. In the 1960s much of Dickson Town was leveled in the name of urban renewal. Fast-forward to 2012 and it’s as if this community never existed except for the remaining historic buildings and businesses that give a glimpse into the past with their presence.
In the 1890s Stephen Lee and Isaac Dickson established the YMI with the intention of this being the seat of government for Dickson Town. In July of 1977, the YMI became certified as a historic building on the National Historic Registry. Two of the buildings designated for renovation, the Del Cardo Building and the Dr. Collette building, are registered as “historically contributing structures” meaning they contribute to the overall fabric of the history of the area and therefore cannot be torn down.
The most recent chapter of this story begins in 1992 as the brainchild of Dr. John H. Grant, the pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Eagle Street. “A small group of people came together with a passionate determination to uplift the community, which had succumb to blight and slum following urban renewal”, Twitty disclosed. The initial focus of this group was the removal of drug and crime activity. Their focus was soon to shift into wider vision.
By 2002, the EMSDC board was able to purchase the Dr. Collette and Del Cardo buildings. As contributing historic structures, their responsibility was to restore these landmarks while retaining ownership and make them self-sustaining. Here the “Eagle Market Place” project was born. The Ritz building, which is the third historic building included in the project, remains privately owned.
In 2009, EMSDC formed a partnership with Mountain Housing Opportunities (MHO), which opened many opportunities including funding from the Chaddick Foundation for historic signage and displays. Cindy Weeks, Rental Housing Manager at MHO, and Twitty have a model working relationship that enhances the progress of Eagle Market Place.
Now, due to funding from NC Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) @ $7 million, loans and grants for the city and Buncombe County @ $4.1 million and the unsolicited $10K from the Chaddick Foundation, Eagle Market Place construction can begin. The work is expected to run from June 1 2013 – June 1, 2015 and will create 500 construction jobs. The three building renovation will result in 15-20 new businesses, 50 permanent jobs, and 62 affordable/work force apartments for qualifying renters ranging in rent from $200-780 per month. There will also be 600 square feet of community space, which includes a green space, courtyard, and computer lab, and 7,000 square feet of commercial, retail, and office space.
Eagle Market Place is the epitome of a successful private, public, and non-profit collaboration and promises to become a national model for affordable housing. In addition to housing, the project has the distinction of incorporating community economic development, job creation and sustainability in its mission. “There are not many examples to model after so we are proud to set an example,” Twitty adds with a smile. While the project is fully funded for construction to begin, an additional $150K is being sought through private donations for further renovation of the community space. Donations can be made to EMSDC or Mountain Housing Opportunities. Watch for upcoming articles on the progress with the project and opportunities to get involved!Article written by: Michele Bryan Photography by: Kim LaViolette For more information: www.eaglemarketstreets.org www.mtnhousing.org Click here for Andrea Clark’s fascinating photographic history of the East End c. 1968 with essay by Henry Robinson.