Expanding Our Horizons 25

In Asheville, we’re expanding our horizons—both literally and figuratively. Our city is stretching and growing, as are the souls who inhabit it, as we welcome new industries and new ideas and turn this sleepy mountain town into a Southern hub.

As part of our Second Annual Men’s Issue, we had the opportunity to sit down with Glenn Wilcox, John McKibbon and Peter Pollay. Together, these three men are remaking an Asheville icon.

It began on the courthouse steps in 1987. The BB&T building, with a sagging facade and dilapidated interior, was on the auction block. Local Glenn Wilcox and a group of nine other investors purchased the historic building. “My oldest son Wallace and I stood on the courthouse steps and made a bid, and nobody upset it, so we ended up with it!” Wilcox remembers. “The first 10 years were pretty tough, but I’m so thankful.”

In the ensuing years, Asheville continued its steady growth and drew in more and more people, including longtime lover of the mountains John McKibbon and California transplant Peter Pollay.

McKibbon, Chairman of McKibbon Hospitality, has been investing in Asheville and its people for decades. Since he opened his first property, a Marriott Courtyard on Tunnel Road which opened over 20 years ago, McKibbon has shown an unparalleled level of commitment to the revitalization of downtown Asheville, with three unique properties in the heart of downtown. “All of our hotels we build today are only in the best locations,” he says. “That’s the only way that I will build a hotel, and those sites are getting harder and harder to find. This opportunity created the ability for us to do two hotels in the very best location, the absolute center of town.”

As for the business climate of Asheville, McKibbon recognizes something special in our city. “The thing about Asheville is that the people love their city, and in most cities that’s not true. Here, every project that happens makes this city better. We’re here long term, so we want to be in a place that’s getting better and better.”

It’s a transformation that’s been a long time coming. It’s hard to imagine now, but it wasn’t all that long ago that our vibrant city was nothing more than a windswept ghost town. McKibbon appreciates not just the end product, but the transformation. “You’ve got a lot of people in this town who came before me who got downtown turned around. People like Julian Price that had the vision when everything was boarded up that something great was here.”

So what draws business to Asheville? According to Peter Pollay, and so many Ashevillians, it’s a mix of small town and big spirit. “We’re transplants, and Asheville has just fulfilled us in our lives and made a huge impact in the way we live day to day.” After their relocation, the Pollays knew they wanted to invest in the town, and they opened Posana. “We love the entrepreneurial spirit here and doing a little of our own part of that. This is our desire and our passion.” Those desires, and those passions, find foundation in the new The Arras.

“[McKibbon] has the vision, and I happen to have the property, and Peter has the expertise in running restaurants,” says Wilcox of The Arras, which will be a unique mix of commercial and residential condos, retail space and a hotel—a space unlike anything else in our city. By transforming the BB&T Building, in the heart of downtown across from Pack Square, these men are breathing new life into not just the block, but the town.

The decision to partner was practically destined. “I couldn’t do it without Glenn and the property,” says McKibbon. “And when Peter and I met, I thought, ‘this is golden.’ You cannot find a better restaurant in town than Posana, it’s absolutely amazing.”

When McKibbon approached Pollay about the new project, it seemed particularly fortuitous. ”We were at the point of thinking about expansion, and we knew John from coming in quite a bit. Some people said ‘this is the best location in town,’ but then I look over there and thought ‘wow, that is the center of town!’” Pollay jumped at the opportunity to begin a new project in this unparalleled setting.

It really is, as Pollay says, the center of town, quite literally. But in recent years it hasn’t seemed that way—until now. ”The key to urban development is activating the street,” notes McKibbon. “For a long time this has been a quiet block around the building. With this project, it will activate the street on all four sides, especially the plaza side. It will really tie Biltmore and Broadway together.”

The Arras won’t just tie together two streets, but our town, as we continue to broaden our horizons.