Answer Man: What is happening at Asheville's former nuclear fallout shelter?
This installment of Answer Man looks into what's about to open at century-old building that once served as a Cold War refuge. Got a question for Asheville Answer Man or Answer Woman? Email Executive Editor Karen Chávez at KChavez@citizentimes.com and your question could appear in an upcoming column.
Question: I was driving down Riverside Drive on a recent afternoon and noticed what looked like a great deal of work being done on what I think was referred to at one time as the old Kent building. It's a rather large structure and certainly was built a long time ago. When was that building constructed and over the years what has it been used for? I'm particularly interested in its original use and what it now will become. What will the new building be and what will it be called and what is the estimated date for completion?
Answer: I love when we get questions about things I was wondering about myself. This one has to do with a five-story, classic brick building in the River Arts District not far from where I've lived for 21 years. I also noticed a bunch of construction there, including what looked like a rooftop lounge taking shape.
When I was the City Hall reporter I actually covered the 2017 meeting where ― amid resident angst over the increasing number of hotels and tourists ― a split City Council voted 5-2 to approve the renovation of a the historic "Kent Building" into a hotel.
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Here's the history I was able to dig up: The building is at 95 Roberts St. (not far from where then-Councilmember Brian Haynes lives). County property information says it was built in 1925, though 1923 is a date given by some sources. The original owner was Fred Kent, an official with the hot cereal maker Biltmore Wheathearts Co., which was one of the first tenants. There was also Ebbs Bros Co., a wholesale grocery business, as well as tenants who sold coffee and other supplies. It burned not long after it was opened, and apparently, was built back, but stronger.
Over the years, one of its more notable uses was as the city's official nuclear fallout shelter. When developers pushed for council approval to convert the empty building into a 70-room hotel, to be called "The Radical," Jay Levell, a member of the White Points Partners development firm out of Charlotte was excited about how solid the structure was.
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"It’s a great building" with "great bones," Levell said. "You can’t make them like they did and you can’t recreate them."
A year later, in 2018, the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County protected it under an easement program that helps preserve "historic integrity" of buildings.
The pandemic delayed the renovation, but in February of this year, a limited liability company made up of the Atlanta-based Hatteras Sky group and other investors and developers completed a lease-to-buy agreement with a last $573,000 payment. A county government assessment puts the value of the building and its 0.8 acres at $2.7 million.
According to our reporting and a website for The Radical, the hotel, including the rooftop bar is set to open in "late summer."
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.