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Personnel File - July 2008: entertainment

Pat Whalen
Owner, The Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club LLC

Talk about impressing the right people. In April, Pat Whalen got a phone call from Rolling Stone magazine telling him that The Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club had made its list of the five best rock clubs in the country. A former funk-and-soul venue that closed in the late ’70s, The Orange Peel reopened in 2002 thanks to an investment by Whalen, whose Public Interest Projects Inc. specializes in downtown revitalization. “We felt like Asheville was a perfect market just to have a great, world-class live-music club,” says Whalen, 58, a former lawyer who has lived there since 1974.

The Orange Peel has hosted an eclectic mix of performers, including Bob Dylan, Wilco, Ziggy Marley and Lou Reed, in a relatively intimate — capacity 942 — setting. In June 2007, Smashing Pumpkins played a two-week residency with nine sold-out shows. More than 8,000 fans flocked to town, causing the press to proclaim it the biggest local musical event since Elvis Presley’s three performances at Asheville Civic Center in July 1975.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla., and a Davidson grad, Whalen moved to Asheville shortly before the King’s gig. After getting a law degree from Northwestern, he left his parents’ home on a quest: He would drive around the country until he found the ideal place to live. It didn’t take long. He awoke one August morning in a motel in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “It was nice and cool, and there was the smell of balsam fir in the air. It felt like I’d come to paradise.” He and some friends opened a law practice downtown back when many buildings were deserted. “Asheville may be paradise, but it’s also always been a difficult place to make a living.”

In 1990, he left his firm to start a nonprofit development company with fellow transplant Julian Price, grandson of one of the founders of what became Jefferson-Pilot. They renovated landmarks such as the old J.C. Penney building, creating mixed-use spaces that included offices, shops and apartments. They provided guidance and startup capital to businesses such as Malaprops Bookstore/Café and started their own, including Zambras restaurant. A live-music club was another project meant to bring downtown back to life. Whalen says his staff has much to do with its success. The 40 music lovers often recommend whom to book. “Given my advanced age, I don’t make all the decisions myself.”