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Controversy on Eagle Market Place project

The historic Del Cardo Building, focal point of the Eagle Market Place redevelopment project

Controversy resumes along with work on Eagle Market Place project

Last October, work on the 90,000-square-foot, multi-use building ceased abruptly when massive cracks appeared in a second-story concrete floor slab only days after the concrete had been poured.

The building’s concrete floors were created using the process known as “post-tensioning.” This technique involves stringing numerous steel cables, each wrapped in a plastic sleeve, across the floor area, then pouring raw concrete over the cables to the level of the floor. Once the concrete has cured, the metal rods are tightened to a predetermined tension level, thus creating a permanently stable and sturdy floor slab.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

According to Michael Dickens, a writer for Professional Builder, there are three main reasons why a section of post-tensioned concrete slab can fail: inconsistent slab thickness, waiting too long to stretch the steel “tendons,” as the cables are called, and incorrect installation of the “slip sheets” – the liner sleeves surrounding the cables. All three are the result of human error.

According to attorneys for Mountain Housing Opportunities, co-partner in the venture (along with Eagle Market Street Development Corporation), the repair work will take until January and the cost involved will be about $4 million, or about 28 per cent of the structure’s original projected $14 million price tag. Principals say there should be no down-the-line cost to the city, as the repairs are a make-good obligation which has engendered claims against all the “responsible parties.” One party, Raleigh-based engineering firm Designsynergy, has already settled with MHO for $470,000, the amount of its project insurance policy.

The city has already committed $4.6 million to Eagle Market Place and Buncombe County has pledged $2.3 million. Loans from both the city and the county, as well as capital from private investors, will make up the balance of the funding according to the developers.

The Eagle Market Place boondoggle became a point of contention during the run-up to the October 6 nonpartisan primary city council election. At that time it was revealed that the project’s overall manager, Chris Bauer, is the brother-in-law of councilor and county commission candidate Gordon Smith. (Smith is actively campaigning for candidate Lindsay Simerly.)

When the family connection between Smith and the Eagle Street project supervisor, Chris Bauer, became known, both Bothwell on one hand and candidate John Miall on the other immediately questioned why Smith had not recused himself on potential conflict of interest grounds but instead voted in 2013 for his brother-in-law’s appointment. According to public records, Smith initially mentioned the possibility of a conflict of interest but interim city attorney Martha McGlohon ruled that there was no conflict of interest and Smith promptly cast his vote accordingly.

McGlohon is the widow of atty. Howard McGlohon, who was the law partner of former city councilor Gene Ellison. Ellison, McGlohon’s estate and Eagle Market Street Development Company were listed as owner of the property in a 2011 variance review by the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission.

When finished, Eagle Market Place is supposed to house a total of 62 “workforce level” apartments, plus a 5,000-square-foot area suitable for retail and office space. The structure will retain the outer facades of several adjacent businesses that flourished in the heyday of “The Block,” the area bounded in part by Eagle and Market Streets which was for generations the economic and social hub of Asheville’s black community.

And thereby hangs another tale.

In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, the city undertook a sweeping program of urban renewal in an area beginning at Eagle and Market Streets and extending south and east through the city’s oldest and most cohesive black neighborhood. Many residents of the affected area complained bitterly, saying the so-called renewal actually destroyed their community, running roughshod over history and heritage, displacing an entire segment of the city’s population and shattering its vital racial cohesiveness.

In the years that followed, The Block, now a vestige of the neighborhood center it once had been, yielded to neglect, pockmarked with deserted or dilapidated buildings that sheltered drug dealing and prostitution.

When the Eagle Market Place development was announced it was hailed by Ellison, then-mayor Terry Bellamy and other black community leaders as a desperately needed shot in the arm for the once vibrant area – as the cutting edge of a revitalization process that could restore The Block to what it had been, only better.

But not everybody was impressed. There were – and still are — skeptics, such as black businesswoman Dee Williams, who says she has a nagging feeling that the improvements, even when finished, will be only skin deep.

“What I really fear the most, deep down,” Williams says, “is that we’ll get this building up and it will end up, down the road, in the hands of a third-party developer who will not have any stake in what it’s supposed to be or do.”

Williams says Eagle Market Place is not a cure-all and that a mere building cannot replace the economic and social unity that was lost thirty years ago, the same support network that she benefitted from when she was starting out in business.

“Eagle Street. provided a ‘toe-hold’ for aspiring business persons in the black community,” she says. “The prices were affordable, and many role models offered advice, moral support, and mentoring for nascent business owners. Eagle Street was the heart and soul of black business, culture and economic development, not only for Asheville, but for all of Western North Carolina.”

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