Asheville Watchdog: Novant to Apply to Build 26-Bed Cancer Center in South Buncombe

Written by John Boyle, Asheville Watchdog.

Novant recently announced that it plans to apply to build a 26-bed cancer-focused hospital in Buncombe County.

The proposed hospital, Novant Health Asheville Medical Center, would be built on 24 acres located at 455 Long Shoals Road. Novant will first have to get state approval for the hospital through the Certificate of Need approval process.


The company also confirmed it has leased the former Gold’s Gym site, located at the corner of Hendersonville Road and Overlook Roads, for medical office space. That lease means that a much longed-for Trader Joe’s location in south Asheville won’t be happening — at least for now.

“We’ve said for years that we are committed to Western North Carolina — we are all in,” Carl S. Armato, president and CEO, Novant Health, said in a news release Tuesday. “We are excited about this new opportunity to bring much-needed compassionate care and lifesaving innovation to the region. We’ve already taken steps to preserve cancer care access in partnership with respected local surgeons, and we look forward to building on that momentum with this proposed hospital.”

Novant Health noted it opened Novant Health Surgical Partners — Biltmore in November 2023.

“Increasing access is a cornerstone of Novant Health’s approach to care, and that starts with forming strong relationships with physicians and other clinicians who know their patients and communities best,” said John Mann, MD, president of specialty institutes, Novant Health. “We’ve met with local physicians and listened to what they have to say, and as a result we’ve learned a great deal about what Western North Carolina needs.”

In addition to the proposed hospital, Novant Health said it is committing $20 million over five years to “further develop rural primary care and has acquired space at 1815 Hendersonville Road in Asheville to open a multispecialty medical office building.”

Novant said it has also expanded urgent care services with three Novant Health GoHealth urgent care centers in Black Mountain and Asheville.

This comes at a time when the primary hospital system in Asheville, Mission Health, owned by Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, has faced significant scrutiny after state and federal investigators found the Asheville hospital had violated care standards in more than 15 incidents between April 2022 and November 2023. Many of the violations involved emergency and cancer care.

Following investigators’ findings, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) notified HCA and Mission that the hospital would be placed in immediate jeopardy until conditions threatening patients were amended.

Novant was the only company besides HCA invited to make a formal offer to the Mission board during discussions about Mission’s sale. Its offer was rejected despite itspledge to match or beat any offer from HCA and to maintain staffing levels for three years.

Novant hires developer who’s worked with Trader Joe’s

Developer Rusty Pulliam has worked with Trader Joe’s for months on the former Gold’s Gym site, located at Hendersonville and Overlook roads, but the conversion of the building and associated costs proved prohibitive, he said. Pulliam said Tuesday morning that he’s signed a lease with Novant Health for the 38,820-square-foot Gold’s Gym building.

Pulliam said Novant has hired him to help with the locations, and the company is working toward buying the Long Shoals site, which is across the street from Sunshine Chevrolet and close to the Interstate 26 Long Shoals exchange.

California-based Trader Joe’s already operates one store in Asheville, on Merrimon Avenue, but it has been looking for a site in south Asheville and was in negotiations with Pulliam’s company, Pulliam Properties, for the Gold’s Gym site. But Trader Joe’s was going to occupy only about 40 percent of the building, Pulliam said, meaning Pulliam Properties would have to find another tenant, and install separate utilities such as electricity and heating and air conditioning.

“It was not Trader Joe’s fault” the deal didn’t work out, Pulliam said.

“The cost of renovation of that building to turn it from single-tenant building to two-tenant was cost-prohibitive,” Pulliam said, noting that the existing Trader Joe’s creates a lot of traffic in north Asheville and that would affect any south location plans. “The DOT would probably require me to do a deceleration lane in front of Gold’s Gym, and that would cost me 24 parking spaces and about $750,000 to build it.”

The total cost to retrofit the building, redo the parking and add the deceleration lane proved too expensive for his company, Pulliam said.

“I could’ve built them a new building on another site for less than the cost of renovating that building,” Pulliam said. “I’ve spent a lot of money trying to make this work, with architects and engineers. Meanwhile, Novant Health approached me, and there’s a big need for medical office space in Asheville.”

Pulliam said Trader Joe’s “is still looking very hard at south Asheville,” but available real estate is getting harder to find.

“I don’t think they’re going to take their sights off south Asheville,” Pulliam said.

Trader Joe’s spokesperson Naki Rohde said the company is “actively looking at hundreds of neighborhoods across the country as we hope to open more new neighborhood stores each year. At this time, we do not have a new location confirmed in Asheville.”

Rohde pointed customers to an online form they can fill out to let Trader Joe’s know they want another location.

“There are no guarantees, but being wanted matters to us,” Rohde said.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at [email protected]. The Watchdog’s reporting is made possible by donations from the community. To show your support for this vital public service please visit