Who We Are
Public Interest Projects, Inc. (PIP) is a for-profit development company founded in 1990 by the late Julian Price. Asheville’s sidewalks and storefronts were largely empty, but we believed that downtown development could be both the greenest form of growth and good business. An attractive, livable downtown provides people a reasonable alternative to suburban sprawl while reducing sprawl-related air and water pollution and conserving both historic buildings and greenspace.
Our development strategy is based on complementary investing: developing mixed-use real estate projects offering people at different economic levels a chance to live downtown, while investing in and supporting local businesses that turn sidewalk storefronts into amenities. The result is the creation of long-term value for us and for the community. PIP undertook its first residential project in 1993, The Carolina Apartments on N. French Broad Avenue, 27 apartments in a burned out building with no parking. Even though our property manager said it would fail and local banks had no interest, the project was fully rented prior to completion. Other major renovation projects conceived of, capitalized and carried out by PIP: the Asheville Hotel (Malaprops, Zambra, & 29 apartments), The Old Penney’s Bldg (Mobilia, Studio Chavarria, 23 residential lofts), 65/69 Biltmore Avenue (Laurey’s, Asheville Wine Market), The Orange Peel Live Music Club (101 Biltmore), The Rice-White Bldg (19/21 Biltmore - Ariel Gallery, Karmasonics & 10 apartments), The Vanderbilt Apartments (75 Haywood St. - 123 low income elderly apartments - exterior repair and renovation), Turnbilt Apartments (134/138 Biltmore Ave. – 16 apartments), 123 Biltmore (offices), and 29 1/2 Page Avenue (retail/offices). Today, even in the current economic downturn, all PIP downtown residential projects have waiting lists and downtown remains a strong residential market.
A necessary attraction for downtown residents is the energy at the sidewalk level
created by local shops and restaurants. PIP has conceived of, fully capitalized, and/or run directly a number of downtown businesses: The Orange Peel (downtown’s premier live music venue, named one of the top 5 in the U. S. by Rolling Stone Magazine); nationally recognized restaurants Salsa’s, Zambra, and The Laughing Seed; and Skyrunner (one of the nation’s first highspeed wireless internet service providers). Julian Price and PIP have filled financing and/or management gaps for the talented entrepreneurs running downtown businesses such as: Laurey’s and the Marketplace (two local dining favorites); Malaprop’s Bookstore (recognized as one of the nation’s top independent booksellers); The Fine Arts Theater (downtown’s only first-run movie house); Mobilia (Asheville’s contemporary furnishings store); The Grove Corner Market and The French Broad Food Co-op (downtown’s grocery stores), Blue Moon (now City) Bakery, Self-Help Credit Union, and Mountain Xpress (Asheville’s independent news and arts weekly).
PIP worked with the City of Asheville and McKibbon Hotel Group to give Asheville its first successful public/private partnership. Together, we delivered an important contribution to density, without the use of any tax dollars - a 412-car city-owned parking garage for the most underserved area of downtown, along with a 105 room Aloft Hotel (the smaller city version of the W Hotels). The McKibbon group agreed to move their main lobby to the second level, allowing the street level to contain active retail. The Blackberry Restaurant and Diamond Brand Outdoor shop add life to the sidewalk and the hotel's second floor balcony, placed there at the recommendation (some would say arm-twisting) of PIP's Pat Whalen, has become a popular people-watching vantage point for visitors and locals alike. Workforce housing on the adjacent out-parcel is planned for the second phase.Public Interest Projects has invested over $15,000,000 of equity capital in downtown Asheville. In 20 years, the company has been responsible for the renovation of 14 downtown buildings, created 97 market-rate housing units, 16 retail spaces and 15,000 square feet of office space (all in long vacant, unused space), salvaged 123 low income elderly housing units, created a great downtown live music club, developed a wireless broadband data network for downtown residents and businesses, and provided financial and/or management support for 18 downtown businesses. Our work has been recognized locally, regionally, and internationally.