Riverbend Marketplace Finds Footing in Hills of Asheville

Wed June 09, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Jennifer Conway

Asheville, NC, is nestled between the Blue Ridge and Great Smokey mountains at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. The city is a diverse, urban area, made up of people who have spent their entire lives in the area and transients seeking refuge from more fast-paced parts of the country. It also is an area rich in history, its roots deeply embedded in manufacturing, from textiles of the past to electronics of today.

So when the notion came up to tear down Sayles Bleachery, an old textile dyeing mill that sat abandoned one mile out of downtown and replace it with a shopping center anchored by a Wal-Mart, certain community members tried to put a stop to the development.

“The project was intensely debated by representatives from various community factions for several years before receiving the ’green light’ in June 2002 from the governing City Council,” said Tom Alexander of Taylor and Murphy Construction Co., based in Asheville. Taylor and Murphy is doing site work on the job. “It could be said that this project is arguably the highest profile retail development ever constructed in Buncombe County.”

Some of the opposition probably came from national criticism concerning Wal-Mart and its reputation for adversely affecting small family-run businesses. Another segment of the population was concerned about the impact on, already crowded, traffic conditions.

“The area is urban and it is highly commercialized. And, there are existing traffic issues in the vicinity of the project,” said Alexander, adding that the property has laid dormant for 10 years, providing nominal, if any, tax revenue back to the community. “You’re looking at a development that will be on the tax rolls for close to $40 million – an extremely positive influence on the community’s tax coffers.”

The project spawned community meeting after community meeting, permitting delays and a wide variety of concessions from the developer, but in late December 2003, Taylor and Murphy crews began site preparations for Asheville’s newest retail development.

Riverbend Marketplace is phase one of a 75-acre project that includes a shopping center anchored by Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and PetSmart, a community park and the creation of an urban village. The commercial retail development component is valued at approximately $45 million, of which approximately $12.5 million is allocated to Taylor and Murphy’s site preparation contract. Ken Shepherd is the project superintendent and Jim Waddell is the project manager. Knoxville, TN-based Horne Properties is the project developer.

The most hotly contested aspect of the project was the demolition of the old, abandoned textile dyeing plant composed of four major buildings, which were all built around 1926. The plant remained in operation until 1989 when the company filed for bankruptcy protection and the buildings were subsequently abandoned.

One of the buildings, known as the powerhouse, stored the power units (boilers) that drove the plant. The other three structures were a manufacturing facility, a warehouse to store the finished product and another building to store incoming raw products.

“The majority of the main buildings were located right in the center of the site prep, so getting the extensive abatement work completed timely and the buildings removed impacted our ability to complete the grading on schedule,” said Alexander. “And we’ve been able to accomplish that. In fact, we’ve been a little ahead of schedule.

“The project was expected to start on Oct. 7, 2003,” he added. “Due to the permitting process, the project did not start in full until the week after Christmas. Although we were not able to start on Oct. 7, we were able to substantially adhere to the original building pad availability schedules. The goal was to turn the Wal-Mart over to the general contractor by April 1. That’s what we did.” The entire project is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

For cost considerations and to minimize the burden on the local regulated landfill, Taylor and Murphy separated and recycled all of the steel, concrete, masonry and some of the wood. Crews transported all of the sheet rock and non-structural wood that was removed from the plant to a certified landfill in Buncombe County. Both the structural and reinforcing steel is being separated from the reinforced concrete, masonry walls and floors so that the concrete, etc. can be re-used as beneficial fill for the project’s embankment requirements.

“There were a lot of large structural timbers,” noted Alexander. “Some of the roofing system was made of three-inch thick pine timbers. We salvaged those materials and they are being recycled.”

Alexander estimates that approximately 4,000 tons of steel will be recycled over the course of the project.

Because of the significance of the textile plant to the Asheville community, Taylor and Murphy crews also salvaged many artifacts deemed to be of historical significance to former employees and the prior property owners. These items included a metal spiral stairwell, the marble steps that led into the main plant’s main entrance and its handrails.

“The plant had a 250-foot-high smoke stack that was demolished as part of the site preparation process,” said Alexander. “We probably reclaimed 1,500 bricks from the smoke stack, some of which will be reused to construct a symbolic replica smoke stack 10 or 15 feet high within the proposed adjoining public park.”

The Swannanoa River runs along the project’s northern boundary, and the public park will be constructed along its shoreline. “Former employees of the plant also have come by and expressed interest in getting a souvenir brick from the smoke stack. We have probably given away 300 to 500 bricks,” Alexander added.

He anticipates that additional plant hardware will be moved into other phases of the project, including an antique compressor that will be incorporated into the urban village component scheduled to be under way in about a year. A wooden carving, created on the property a few years ago and known as St. Gabriel, was to be relocated to the park area, but was stolen a few weeks ago.

With a focus on recycling, Taylor and Murphy crews are “crushing shot rock generated from their excavation operation to be re-used in the project’s pavement structure requirements,” said Alexander. “We’ve tried to manage the project cost efficiently as well as using as much natural earth material and legal demolition residue on site as possible. We have tried to be good stewards and recycle as much as we could.”

As of mid-May, most of the demolition process had been completed. “Because of the size [of the project], the environmental cleanup has been tedious. And, because of the size and age of the buildings, it has not been unusual for us to encounter unidentified asbestos, additional lead paint and hazardous liquids. Despite the best efforts of the developer to quantify all of the hazardous materials, the ’sprawling’ size of the buildings, compounded with its various underground utility corridors, made the identification of all the hazardous materials practically impossible.”

T&E Technology, based in Asheville, is handling the project’s asbestos and lead paint abatement requirements.

Beyond demolition, Taylor and Murphy crews are moving approximately 1.2 million cu. yds. of earth, of which approximately 200,000 cu. yds. is gneiss and granite rock that has required blasting. Alexander noted that site earthwork requirements are balanced within the confines of the property boundaries.

“We are charged with meeting several [grading] milestones on this project,” said Alexander, “most of which are building pad availability dates. The Wal-Mart pad and its surrounding area had to be completed by April 1. The PetSmart building pad is to be completed by June 1. The Kohl’s building pad and parking lot are scheduled to be made available to the building contractor by August 1.”

Favorable weather has helped Taylor and Murphy crews reach these milestones, he added, along with their significant commitment of assets to the project. This includes both equipment and manpower.

“We are working extended hours,” he said. Approximately 50 workers have been working five 10 hour shifts during the week and eight hours on Saturdays.”

In addition to massive grading and rock removal, crews are installing water and sanitary sewer lines to service the retail facility; relocating a high pressure gas main; installing storm drainage, sidewalks, curbs and gutters; and finishing up with all the asphalt and concrete paving. Approximately 26,000 tons of asphalt will be required on the project, and 70,000 tons of crushed aggregate base course will be installed.

Crews also will be constructing a four-lane bridge spanning the Swannanoa River and another bridge over an active Norfolk and Southern railroad track. The company is also widening N.C. 81, which serves as the main entrance to the project, by creating an additional travel lane. There will be three entrances in total.

Assisting Taylor and Murphy crews in completing the massive project is the Asheville branch of Carolina CAT. “[Taylor and Murphy] has a long history with Carolina CAT and its Caterpillar products. It goes back at least 25 years,” said Alexander. “Historically, their product reliability and their service have been superior.”

At peak production, crews have been using an extensive lineup of Caterpillar equipment: three 631E and two 621F scrapers; a D9N, a D-8R dozer and three D6R dozers; an 825 and 563 roller; a D-5H XL; a 12H motorgrader; and a Cat 400 articulated truck.

During demolition, crews used a Cat 320C excavator equipped with demolition tool attachments, a Cat 320C excavator with a thumb attachment, a Cat 930 wheel loader, a Cat mini-excavator, and a Cat skid steer loader. Pipe crews are using Cat 320C track excavators and complimentary Cat IT 28G rubber-tired loaders. Rock crushing crews are using Cat 980 and 966 wheel loaders.

“Knock on wood, we have thus far not experienced any extraordinary equipment mechanical failures,” said Alexander. “However, if we do, we are confident that Carolina CAT will respond in a heartbeat. When we have needed to acquire new equipment for this project and other projects, whether through rental or purchase, [Carolina CAT] has been able to respond to us quickly. Their facility in Asheville is probably 10 miles away from this particular job site.”

One unusual incident that did occur during the project, Alexander noted, was the discovery of a black bear that was domiciled on the property. “When we first mobilized to the project, we encountered a large, adult black bear that had apparently lived at the site in recent years. After his curiosity wore off, he migrated to a safer haven.”