By Leslee Kulba- As Wyatt Stevens described it, Monark Patel and Pratik Bhakta are both well-educated locals whose families are in the hotel business. They take care of their properties, and they’re good corporate citizens.
One day, they decided to enter a partnership to convert the old Matthews Ford property, which has sat vacant for years, into a handsome extended-stay hotel. It would be seven stories high with 103 rooms. After all, there were no hotels nearby (except for the Residence Inn by Marriott four blocks away), and there was need for extended-stay accommodations near the hospital.
In these days of what Vijay Kapoor described as “hotel fatigue” among his peers on council, it has become necessary for persons wanting to build accommodations for the booming tourist industry to develop extortion packages to live up to what former Councilor Gordon Smith termed the McKibbon Standard.” So, the hoteliers went about asking neighbors what they would want from good corporate citizens.
Mission Health said people with family members traveling to the hospital for treatment need extended-stay accommodations. The hoteliers said they would give those people preferential pricing.
Pam Coppedge of the Child Crisis Center needed the same, and the hoteliers said they would oblige.
Scott Rogers of the ABCCM 356 Pharmacy noted the hoteliers employed people ABCCM is helping to get their lives back together. They signed a memorandum of understanding, presumably to hire more people from ABCCM programs.
David Nash and Gene Bell from the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville are overhauling Lee Walker Heights. They said their residents will need jobs, and so an agreement similar to the one made with Rogers was forged. The hoteliers said they could offer free bus passes, but they didn’t think they would be used much. They asked what they might do instead.
They were told the project was quite extensive, and no funds had been secured yet for playground equipment, which would cost around $125,000. So, the hoteliers said they would donate $125,000 to HACA.
Lastly, members of city council wanted affordable housing. Nobody except members of city council and people who like to speak during public comment has found a way to believe a development charging low-tier rents on prime real estate will not go belly-up without something akin to an endowment. So, the hoteliers offered to donate $100,000 a year for five years to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
All of the above were contingent upon project approval.
Most speakers during public comment had come to vouch for the hoteliers’ character and share that the hotel would be a welcome change. Former Mayor Terry Bellamy’s mother, Luella Whitmire, told a touching story of her meeting with Patel.
An 80-year-old veteran came in as they spoke at her ministry. He had fallen prey to an out-of-town motel’s bait-and-switch. Patel stepped up and negotiated a better arrangement for him; but more importantly, he made time for the vet and listened patiently. He treated everybody with dignity and respect.
Both Councilor Julie Mayfield and Kapoor indicated they would vote in favor of the project, given the bundle of gifts laid before their feet. Every man has his price, but Keith Young’s was higher.
He said hotel proliferation had been one of the big campaign issues when he ran for office. He thus viewed his election as a mandate. His first vote was on the renovation of the BB&T skyscraper, the project from which the McKibbon Standard won its name.
Young voted against it, but he’s still in a state of disbelief after seeing how a $250,000 extortion could convince a majority on council to be fine with walking back all the campaign rhetoric.
He recalled the developer, John McKibbon, saying, “I’ve tried to give you something to take back to your constituents, something that you can use to balance it out.”
As for the current project, Young said, “All the conditions are interesting in itself, but I feel like there’s a greater conversation that has to be had [about] the continued exacerbation of hotels as it pertains toward the city center.” He was prepared to vote no.
So was Brian Haynes. He said as far as he was concerned, there was a moratorium on hotels. He hoped by their action council would send a message to developers that they will not approve hotels. “Come back with something else,” he said. He hoped developers would think long and hard about the long odds they were facing before sinking a lot of money into hotel designs.
Mayor Esther Manheimer could not support the project as long as the cost of tourists, in wear and tear on infrastructure and utilization of municipal services, outstrips any revenues they may drop in the local economy.
As anticipated, Stevens approached the stand and said, “I respectfully withdraw the application.”