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Asheville: December News and Views

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/04/03)

Health Adventure picks designers for new center

By Jill Ingram

ASHEVILLE - Barbara Pate has known The Health Adventure since it was a baby.

She was one of the health and science museum's founding members and has helped nurture it from its original 1966 location in a hospital storage room to its current spot in Asheville's Pack Place.

Her children visited the Health Adventure, and now her grandchildren.

"We're there all the time," Pate said.

But she's ready to see the museum move from its downtown space.

"We've outgrown it," she said Wednesday at a reception for board members, staff and friends of the Health Adventure in Montford.

The Health Adventure, which said in January it would build a new museum on a six-acre site off Broadway, has picked the people who will help it build a big new space to play and learn.

PGAV, a planning and design firm out of St. Louis, will design the new building, including exhibit space, that The Health Adventure hopes to occupy by summer 2008.

The Health Adventure serves 120,000 visitors and students per year. Many of the museum's visitors are schoolchildren from the 17 WNC counties it serves.

"If there were ever a time to ask, `How good could the Health Adventure be?' the time is now," said Mike Konzen, PGAV vice president, during the reception.

The new facility will cost between $10 million and $12 million and will be paid for through fund-raising efforts, said Paige Johnson, vice president of marketing and development for the Health Adventure. The final amount The Health Adventure will pay PGAV depends on the "scope of the services" and should be finalized today, Johnson said.

PGAV, which stands for Peckham Guyton Albers Viet, is designing the new $200 million Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and has served as master planner for projects with Hoover Dam, Niagara Falls, SeaWorld Adventure Parks, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios and the Audubon Nature Institute.

The Health Adventure and PGAV are designing five themed areas for the new museum before they design the overall structure. The areas will focus on very young children, the environment, science and technology, the human body and play. The Health Adventure will remain operational at its current site until the new building is open, Johnson said.

Khalid Jewell, 11, and Towhid Jewell, 8, spent Wednesday at The Health Adventure playing among the exhibits.

The brothers are home-schooled and skied down a mountain on a virtual reality machine as their mom, Paquita Billups of Hendersonville, watched.

"This is their science trip," she said.

Contact Ingram at 232-5864 or [email protected]

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I hardly ever comment on your Asheville updates, but I decided to at least encourage you in continuing doing so. Asheville has a lot of community development news and it is always interesting to read about the progress in that area. Keep up the good work... These threads may not generate a lot of "debates", or input, but they certainly provide great info.

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Thanks for the encouragement. I know that not too many people are overly fascinated by what's shaking in Asheville, but I hope that by posting what's going on here, perhaps someone will be inspired by what's happening here and thus might come up with a few ideas for their city! Since Asheville is such a state leader in smart growth, urban revitalization, and the arts, a lot of what we're doing and a lot of what's brought us to the point where we now stand can be applied elsewhere. Charlotte's got the message, using art such as public sculpture and its famous frescoes to cement its status as a city of the arts. Winston-Salem, with its downtown packed to choking with sculptures and murals, also knows how to use art to create vibrancy -- and they could even teach Asheville a thing or two! Meanwhile, the proposed redesign of Asheville's Pack Square and City-County Plaza offer a lesson in creating great urban public spaces, and other smart growth initiatives here can stand as a potent lesson for other Southern cities. Basically, all that's made Asheville such an urban haven can be applied elsewhere to rebuild neighborhoods, bring life back to central business districts, and create enviable places of Ashevillian quality in other cities.

That's why I post... and also, truth be told, I post because I'm deliriously happy to be living here, I'm even happier that I was born in a place I adore, and I just can't hold it in whenever I spy something in the news about how Asheville just keeps getting better and better! B)

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Excerpt from the Mountain X-Press (12/03/03) "City Council News" section

PUCKS AND BUCKS

Council approves hockey contract, Memorial Stadium renovations

by Brian Sarzynski...

"MEMORIAL STADIUM UPGRADE

In other sports news, City Council approved a resolution authorizing the Parks and Recreation Department to proceed with a conceptual design for renovating Memorial Stadium. Parks & Rec Director Irby Brinson told Council about the planned $1.5 million face-lift. In a memo distributed prior to the meeting, Brinson announced the formation of an action committee that will work with his department to "aggressively secure funding through grants, foundations and sponsorships, as well as the Capital Improvement Plan for the City of Asheville." The renovation plan, the memo noted, will also include a "proper recognition for our war dead to be constructed at the site." This addition, said the memo, will rectify the fact that a "true memorial to the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country was never properly constructed."

Brinson then thanked Council member Mumpower for having served as the driving force behind the initiative. Mumpower, however, publicly insisted that thanks should go to this reporter for writing a story about the decaying stadium that Mumpower said had motivated him to explore the issue and make it a priority.

Council unanimously approved the plan."

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I know it would attract more attention to the thread were I to post some commentary, and usually I do that, but lately I've got too much on my mind. I'm in the process of moving into a house with plumbing problems that are ever so slowly being worked out, I have a cold, my boyfriend smokes and drinks too much, and my father had a "signifigant" heart attack today... So commentary will have to wait til I'm feeling up to it.

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I will agree with monsoon... Asheville provides a good model for the rest of the cities and adds some diversity to the fabric of this state. While news about Asheville may not generate arguments and debates, this doesn't mean that the frequent updates are not interesting. Keep up the good work, HauntedHeadNC.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/08/03)

WHAT ASHEVILLE IS AND ATLANTA ISN'T

by SPECIAL TO THE CITIZEN-TIMES

Several times each year I visit Asheville from my north Georgia hideaway to work and play in your North Carolina mountains. My home of Dahlonega, located at the beginning or end of the Appalachian Trail, depending on how you look at it, is some 75 miles due north of this region's largest city. My drive down to Atlanta along Georgia Route 400 can take up to two hours from Dahlonega depending on the time of day and the usual "gawdawful" traffic on that asphalt two- lane.

Once upon a time I was a pro-baseball junkie but gave up attending Braves games more than a half-decade ago. Some evenings it could take almost three traffic-clogged hours (about my driving time to Asheville) to attend a game featuring "America's Team." That traffic, the lack of safe parking, tasteless and expensive food along with a $5 watered-down 16-ounce draft beer finally convinced me that it was easier to watch the "Superstation."

I fell out of love with "Hotlanta" sometime between the "worst-to-first" 1991 season and the Olympics fiasco of '96.

I was so fond of this city in the 1970s and 1980s - I just didn't recognize the South's "Big A" anymore.

Enter Asheville....

I have watched you during my recent stays. Your downtown area has made a progressive change - a significant rebirth. I realize that no inner city is perfect, but what I've seen with each Asheville visit is a growing people-friendly downtown district.

Others, I'm sure, are noticing.

I am a folk artist and teacher and I participate each year at Bele Chere. One Sunday this summer at the "World's Largest `Free' Arts Festival" my wife and I discussed this very topic. Together we compiled a list comparing your downtown to the caverns of inner-city Atlanta.

It's a "what-one-is-and-what-one-isn't" Top 10 list from our viewpoint.

Here goes:

Downtown ... Asheville or Atlanta?

1.)Downtown Atlanta's eating and drinking establishments close down after a work day (strip joints don't count). Asheville comes alive after 5.

2.) Atlanta is a 1-2 hour commute Monday through Friday. Asheville is 15-30 minutes to work and back home.

3.) Atlanta is "yuppie" and Asheville is, well, far from that.

4.)Atlanta is fast food on the go. Asheville is veggie and bagel at a sidewalk caf.

5.)Atlanta has a long one-hour drive to the hills. Asheville is in the mountains.

6.)Atlanta's downtown businesses are leaving for the 'burbs. Asheville's are returning.

7.)Atlanta is about "keeping up with the Jones's". Asheville is "Do your own thing."

8.)Downtown Atlanta is 90 degrees with concrete and steel, and trees cut down. Asheville is 80 degrees, taking time to smell the flowers and green peace.

9.)Atlanta is $40 game tickets for pampered million-dollar athletes. Asheville is $10 tickets for $1,000-per- month athletes.

Finally, and most importantly #10. . The "Big A" has MANY image problems while your Asheville is creating a positive and progressive image for those who return to visit and/or live.

By the way, did I mention about this love affair thing I have with Asheville? As Arnold would say - "I'll be back."

Tom Yankus writes a colunm for the Dahlonega Nugget and teaches Creative Writing to gifted students in a North Atlanta suburb. He retires next May after 37 years in education and returns to Asheville "whenever he has the opportunity."

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "And yet, I'll bet you a cookie that none of this matters a whit to NIMBY's. They're ever-vigilant and alert, knowing that someone, somewhere is planning to build something downtown."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/08/03)

ORANGE PEEL GIVES AREA MUSIC SCENE A JUICY TWIST

By Paul Clark, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - Jamie McClendon couldn't believe the Flaming Lips were coming to the Orange Peel.

One of the country's best rock bands was making its only North Carolina appearance at the Asheville club, and McClendon drove several hours from Graham to see the show with friends in April.

"The Orange Peel is my new favorite club," he said. "A person could assume that any mid-size act of indie-rock nature will normally play Chapel Hill, and occasionally branch out to Winston-Salem. With the presence of the Orange Peel, another wealth of possibilities now exists."

The Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club recently celebrated its first-year anniversary, and though it's had to make significant changes in the way it operates, it's doing better than expected, co-owner Lesley Groetsch said.

"We've had positive cash flow," she said. "We don't expect to make much money in coming years, because it's such an expensive endeavor to renovate a building and put all the equipment in."

Investors, primarily Public Interest Projects Inc., have $2 million invested in the building renovations and sound and lighting equipment, said Pat Whalen, president of Public Interest, a for-profit investment company that the late philanthropist Julian Price set up to better Asheville.

Public Interest Projects is the investor in the limited liability company, and Lesley Groetsch and her husband, Jack, are the managers of both the club and the LLC. Public Interest is also involved with Zambra and Salsa restaurants, as well as the old Asheville Hotel building and Carolina Apartments, among other investments.

Whalen said the Orange Peel's gate receipts are 30 percent higher than the LLC's projections for the first year.

The Orange Peel fills and improves upon the "big venue" niche that former clubs Be Here Now and the Asheville Music Zone provided. Orange Peel gets the large, big-name national traveling acts such as Guy Clark and Bruce Cockburn. Places like Vincent's Ear, a coffeehouse on North Lexington Avenue, get national acts as well. But those bands are likely to be traveling in vans instead of tour buses.

"They (the Orange Peel) pretty much redefined the circuit (for) a lot of the bands," Rick Morris, daytime manager at Vincent's Ear, said. "The fact that King Crimson kicked off their tour at the Orange Peel is pretty impressive.

"Many bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor! and the Buzzcocks (both of which the Orange Peel hosted) have always gone around this area. It pleases me no end that they are here."

It used to be that club owners did their own booking. But with competition from media and music giants Clear Channel and House of Blues International, clubs like the Orange Peel have to rely on the logistic and buying power of regional promoters such as AC Entertainment.

AC Entertainment of Knoxville, Tenn., which books many of the acts that appear at the Asheville Civic Center and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, also offers up most of the shows that come to the Orange Peel. The club does its own promotion.

"For a long time, we really had a problem," Ashley Capps, president of AC Entertainment, said, "in that the capacity for a lot of clubs (in Asheville) was 500 or less, and the next venue we could go to was 2,300 seats, which is Thomas Wolfe. We found ourselves taking shows into Thomas Wolfe that really didn't belong there yet. The Orange Peel offers artists that midrange point."

Having the Orange Peel "allows us to take a few more risks with the booking," Capps said. "The new electronica acts like Prefuse 73 and Kid Koala, this is the type of show you would typically see only in a bigger city. Godspeed You Black Emperor!, they sold out the Orange Peel in advance. That would have been unimaginable before."

Asheville has what it needs to support this kind of club, people in the local music industry noted. It has so many good musicians that many play for free.

It has an appreciative and growing base of fans. It has a variety of venues such as Green Eggs and Jam, Asheville Community Resource Center, Emerald Lounge and Stella Blue that gives bands places to launch, mature and move up to the Orange Peel and Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall.

"We knew from the start it would take at least a full year to understand the economic and music cycles of Asheville," Lesley Groetsch said. "We said from the beginning we wanted to be a community center, wanted to be a place where people from all walks of life would feel welcome. We wanted to integrate other art forms, like the visual arts and theater production, which we've done."

The club's second year should see a wider variety of shows, she said. There will be more dance, theater and visual arts. Last June and July weren't great months for the club, so this summer, the Orange Peel will likely be doing more with outdoor festivals and events, which did well attendance-wise, she said.

The Orange Peel fills a historic gap in Western North Carolina's music culture, Jay Gragg said. Gragg, 36, lived in Boone from 1985 through 1993, and the big shows were in the Triangle area, which sometimes meant a long drive through foul mountain weather.

"Western North Carolina was a wasteland, as far as we were concerned," he said. Now, he's in Shelby.

"I'm only one hour away from seeing Wilco, the Flaming Lips, The Cramps, Jonathan Richman," he said. "I've been to more shows (at the Orange Peel) this past year than I have in the previous four years, and it's high-quality bands that I get to see. I plan my social life around their calendar.

"I've missed as many shows as I wanted to see just because it was too much. That's a great problem to have."

Contact Clark at 232-5854 or [email protected]

---

*hauntedheadn sez, "Weren't the Flaming Lips the ones who appeared in that commercial with people in bunny suits? Never trust anyone who gets involved in any way with people wearing bunny suits."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/09/03)

SUIT COULD THREATEN DEVELOPMENT PLANS FOR 'THE BLOCK'

By Jennifer Brevorka and Angie Newsome, Staff writers

ASHEVILLE - Owners of a South Market Street restaurant said Tuesday they will sue to stop a $6.6 million redevelopment project on "The Block," saying the public had been left out of the planning process.

The announcement of a potential lawsuit by Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon came moments after Asheville City Council heard developers say they could not postpone one of the biggest redevelopment projects in downtown Asheville. "The Block" is the historic heart of Asheville's African- American commercial district.

Though the lawsuit was not formally announced at the council meeting, Ellison told reporters during a break that he intends to proceed with legal action.

Along with the rehabilitation of five buildings, the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. plans on building a new four-story building on South Market Street, next to Ellison's and McGlohon's building. The redevelopment plan would create 47 apartments with ground floor space for small businesses.

If federally funded loans are not approved soon, the cost of rising interest rates could threaten private funding, developer David Rogers said.

"(Developers) cannot accept delay until January," said city Planning Director Scott Shuford.

Over the last several months, City Council twice postponed a decision on funding the proposal - the last hurdle before construction begins. On Tuesday, City Council added the funding item to next week's agenda.

Ellison and another property owner in the area said they object to the four-story building slated for construction next to The Ritz restaurant because drafts of the redevelopment plan never clearly showed the building. Ellison also said property owners and community members saw the architectural drawings too late in the approval process.

"This project is a fraud," Ellison said. "It's set up to fail."

A draft of Ellison's and McGlohon's legal complaint said the proposed building would not meet the 1993 requirements council approved for the area's redevelopment. The complaint also states the current proposed construction deviates from the original redevelopment plan for the area.

The complaint also stated the mayor and City Council failed to properly appoint Asheville residents to serve as members of the redevelopment commission.

Mayor Charles Worley said he had not seen any legal complaint, but said, "I think all of us would hope that the issues on the Eagle/Market street development could be resolved without resorting to a lawsuit."

He said council had investigated whether the new building is a "substantial deviation" from the original proposal, but City Attorney Bob Oast had advised the council that it was not. Oast repeated his findings at Tuesday's work session.

The threat of a lawsuit came less than 12 hours after a community task force met to continue discussion on the proposal, which has been hotly debated over the past month. Residents and business owners have argued about everything from the lack of public input to whether the new building would block views. Others just want the redevelopment project, now more than a decade old, to proceed.

Property owners, city planners and religious and community leaders met at The Ritz Restaurant Tuesday morning. The task force that gathered asked developers to postpone the project for 30 days.

The task force was still waiting to hear from Eagle/Market Street representatives Tuesday when they learned at the City Council meeting that developers could not wait.

Task force moderator Virgil Smith said "it was disingenuous and down right disrespectful to the work of the task force" for city planners and developers to announce they couldn't wait to start the project at the council meeting first. Smith is the president and publisher of the Citizen-Times and was at the City Council work session Tuesday.

Jesse Plaster, who owns the Wilson building on Eagle Street, said the developer's announcement threatened to end discussions. "We've had trouble renting our offices since this building was announced," Plaster said. "We lost six potential residents in the past month."

Council is scheduled to vote on the matter at their next meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Contact Brevorka at 232-2938 or [email protected]

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or ANewsome@CITIZEN- TIMES.com.

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "The fact that people are willing to sue to protect a parking lot -- proposed site of new four-story building -- is a sure sign that our civilization is in decline."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/11/03)

CRITICS PUSH TO DELAY DOWNTOWN ASHEVILLE REDEVELOPMENT PLAN

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - Hoping to delay a $6.6 million downtown redevelopment project, property owners and community leaders fired off protest letters Wednesday to Asheville City Council members.

The protests come a day after two South Market Street property owners threatened a lawsuit to stop a redevelopment plan targeting "The Block." "The Block" - 22 acres along Eagle and Market streets to the south of Pack Square - is the historic heart of Asheville's African-American commercial district.

On Tuesday, Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon said they intend to sue the city to stop the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. from going forward with a plan that would include a new four-story building next to their restaurant, The Ritz, on South Market Street. The two said the public had been left out of the redevelopment project's planning process.

By Wednesday afternoon, neither man had yet filed a claim with the court.

Elizabeth Russell and James Geter, development corporation representatives, said late Wednesday that they haven't had time to respond to the threat of a lawsuit against the city. Russell said the corporation plans to continue scheduling community presentations on the planned project.

But the corporation's developers and city planners on Tuesday told City Council that to further delay the project could make it too expensive to develop, which could eventually reject the plan.

The recent controversy heightens a month-old debate that had been tempered by a task force organized to negotiate a compromise on the plan.

City Council members have twice postponed approving further funding for the project, and some community members have argued that the Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp. changed previous redevelopment proposals without adequate public input.

Task force member Jesse Ray, vice chair of the YMI Cultural Center's board of directors, sent a letter to City Council Wednesday outlining objections to the plan.

"In essence, the YMI does have a problem with the project," Ray wrote. "The process of involving property owners, tenants, customers and the general community is just as important as the design itself."

City Council is slated to vote on funding the project at 5 p.m. Tuesday during its regularly scheduled meeting. If the council says yes, construction could start within the next several months.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

Staff writer Jennifer Brevorka contributed to this report

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "beotch, beotch, beotch... It's good to know that at least some things are constant in life. No matter how beneficial a project may be to downtown Asheville, NIMBY's will oppose it."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/12/03)

NEW BUILDINGS PLANNED FOR PACK SQUARE SHOULD ADHERE TO REVITALIZATION GUIDELINES

By Asheville Citizen-Times

The Grove Park Inn is having problems designing a profitable building for the north side of Pack Square within the guidelines established for revitalization of the area. If the inn cannot work out its problems, the solution is to change the site, not the guidelines. In 2001 the Pack Square Conservancy began drawing up plans "for a new central park and revitalized square for the people of Asheville and Buncombe County." Among the elements was a new building across Market Street from the Biltmore Building. Early this year Grove Park Inn announced a $225 million project for buildings on this site and another site on the south side of the square.

In September, the city gave the inn an option of the north- side property. A final decision on the sale is to be made next summer. In the meantime, the inn is working on its plans. And opponents are working on their arguments.

Foes of the plan, and there are plenty of them, have two basic issues: the building is not in keeping with the guidelines and the public will be losing park space. The first criticism is premature, as the inn has not yet completed its plans. Further, a point often overlooked is that the building has been in the conservancy's plan from the start; the only change this year is the emergence of someone who wants to build.

The second criticism is just plain wrong. The conservancy's plan actually increases park space, primarily by eliminating the portion of Patton Avenue that slashes diagonally across the area to meet College Street. Under the plan, Patton traffic will keep going east after passing the Vance Monument to a dead-end on Market Street, where vehicles will have to turn either right or left.

The inn's biggest problem in designing the north-side building apparently is the cost of putting parking underground. "At this point, it's not looking good," Grove Park Inn President and CEO Craig Madison said at a forum on the project last month. As a result, he said, the inn is looking at other downtown property.

It would be unfortunate were the inn's plans to fall through. A new mixed-use building would help frame the square while increasing the "active edges" the conservancy feels are important to "add life and vibrancy."

But, any building must be within the guidelines. This means, among other things, that it be no higher than the Jackson Building and that it extend no farther south than the Biltmore Building, so as not to intrude onto the square. Underground parking is another important element; the city does not want its predominant downtown landmarks to be parking garages.

There are other sites the Grove Park Inn could explore. One in particular is the parking lot on the south side of Patton Avenue between Lexington and Church streets. Surface parking is hardly the best use for a city block on a main downtown street. Other possibilities are south of the downtown center, where there is a lot of property prime for redevelopment.

The conservancy's plan should transform Pack Square into "a social, economic and cultural center that celebrates the area's unique character," to use the conservancy's words. The amphitheater planned at the east end, near city hall and the courthouse, would be the cultural center. The enhanced green spaces would provide the social element. As to economics, existing and new structures designed to be street- friendly are important.

That means the new structures must be the right ones. The BB&T Building is far too big for its surroundings and the Biltmore Building, even with the addition of a ground-floor eatery, is not especially inviting for pedestrians. The conservancy seems to have learned from these mistakes. The city must not forget.

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "New buildings should adhere to Pack Square Conservancy guidelines? As if they weren't going to already!"*

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Metro, the S&W Cafeteria building faces Pritchard Park, which in and of itself has an interesting history. That triangular piece of land was once home to the main post office of Asheville, which was demolished to make way for a typically ugly bus terminal ilke any other built in the '60's, '70's, or '80's. Later, that bus terminal, the central hub of Asheville's bus system, was moved over a few blocks and the site where it had stood was redeveloped into Pritchard Park! I especially love the stained glass streetlights and the waterfall fountains, not to mention the pigeons -- the REALLY fat pigeons -- that seem to like to congregate there.

Pack Square is that little "urban courtyard" with the fountain and obelisk, as well as about four stations of the Urban Trail and that bronze statue of Wolfe's Angel. It's separated from City-County Plaza, that big greenspace that fronts the courthouse and city hall, by the "Midpark," which is a rectangular little plot of land where there used to be some unremarkable commercial buildings until they were torn down back in the 1960's as part of what little "urban renewal" took place in Asheville.

That Midpark is actually where the Grove Park Inn wants to build its first new building -- they want to build another building bordering City-County Plaza on what is now a city-owned parking lot -- and they're planning to only take a small portion of the Midpark for their building. Nevertheless, people are having fits over it. It's the Asheville way I guess.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/13/03)

REDEVELOPMENT PLAN HAS OPPOSITION

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - Already steeped in controversy, a $6.6 million redevelopment plan for "The Block" faced more opposition Friday.

Property and business representatives circulated a petition criticizing the plan's organizers and demanding more public input.

The petition surfaced Thursday during a special South Pack Square Association meeting, said Jesse Plaster, owner of Eagle Street's Wilson Building. Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp., an area economic development organization, is coordinating the effort, which targets "The Block", the historic center of Asheville's African-American business district.

If completed, the project could add 47 apartments and ground-floor commercial spaces in the area. Six buildings would be affected.

By late Friday afternoon, 14 people representing businesses along Eagle and Market Streets had signed the petition, which stated, "The Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation has failed our community by ignoring our voice in their development plans."

Though the petition went on to demand more public input, organizers turned away Elizabeth Russell, executive director of the corporation, when she tried to attend the Thursday meeting.

Plaster said Russell would have made some people uncomfortable, particularly a former renter of a corporation- owned property.

"It's hard to have a public meeting with exceptions," Plaster said, "but that's essentially what it was."

"It's disappointing to not hear that information or be included in those discussions on any level," Russell said.

The petition comes just days before City Council prepares to decide whether to send more than $1.1 million to the organization to pay for a portion of the project. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday, and council must approve the funding before construction begins.

Late Friday afternoon, Russell said she had not seen a copy, and not everyone in the area has signed it.

Thomas Joyce, owner of Smooth's Do Drop In on Eagle Street, said he attended the association's meeting but didn't see or sign the petition.

"I just want a little more clarity before I say `Amen' on something," he said.

The moderator of a task force asked City Council to request that the organization coordinating the project include property owners on its board of directors.

Virgil Smith, the moderator of a task force organized to negotiate a compromise on the plan, sent a letter to City Council stating the group has "reached an impasse" on the proposed building.

Tuesday, attorneys Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon said they plan to sue the city if council agrees to the plan. The two men own the Ritz Building on South Market Street, just south of the proposed structure. Council must approve the funding for redevelopment to begin.

Smith, president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen- Times, also asked the council to direct the corporation to included property owners on its board of directors, a request Russell said she would take to the corporation's board of directors on Jan. 15, their next scheduled meeting.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

---

*hauntedheadnc sez, "F'ing idiots."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/14/03)

CONDO OPPONENTS CALL FOR BOYCOTT OF GROVE PARK INN

By Paul Clark, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - Julie Brandt and supporters are calling for a boycott of the Grove Park Inn, hoping to force the resort to abandon its proposal to build a 10-story building on city parkland at City-County Plaza.

Brandt and some four dozen other members of People Advocating Real Conservancy called for the boycott Saturday after Craig Madison, president and CEO of the inn, said its Texas-based owner, Sammons Enterprises, would go ahead with the building if it's financially feasible and City Council approves the measure.

"Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears," Brandt said at a press conference on the triangular piece of parkland. "If the Grove Park Inn ignores the wishes of the citizens of Asheville, why should we patronize them?"

Contacted after the press conference, Madison said while he respected its right to protest, he regretted the organization had called for a boycott. But he doubted such a boycott would have a significant impact on the inn.

"We'll keep doing what we do," he said. "We've been very busy this season and expect to be busy throughout the holidays."

The Grove Park Inn hopes to erect a $25 million building with luxury condominiums on top, retail and restaurant space on the ground and parking underground on a triangular plot that includes a portion of College Street.

City Council, which gave the inn an option on the property in September, is expected to decide next spring whether to allow construction.

That may not happen, however. At an overflowing League of Women Voter of Asheville-Buncombe County's forum on the proposal in November, Madison said the costs of putting in underground parking were "extraordinary."

Underground parking at the site can run as high as $18,000 per parking space, adding $54,000 to the cost of a three- bedroom condominium, he said.

"We haven't given up, but we're still struggling with the financial feasibility of the project," Madison said.

"He's repeatedly (said) it's all about the math," said Barry Summers with People Advocating Real Conservancy, "so if it's all about the math, then that's how we'll respond. Our voices do not have an impact on him, so we have to speak economically."

"What a big mistake," Henry Edgerton III said after he rode into a portion of College Street on which the building would sit. "They ought to just leave it the way it is. We need this road. It's ridiculous."

"The only way we can reach the Grove (Park Inn) is through their pocketbook," Laura Thomas said. "What the Grove needs to understand is that we can keep boycotting them forever."

Brandt said the organization called for the boycott because the inn and City Council had ignored the wishes of 1,500 people who signed a petition protesting the proposed sale.

The inn is proceeding despite letters sent to it last week by 125 people, many of whom "expressed deep disappointment" and cancelled Christmas, family and birthday events at the inn, Brandt said.

The building "would very much alter the quality of our square," Richard Koerber said as he watched Jim Brown and others press tape along the perimeter of the land and street affected. "We would like for this to be preserved forever as open space."

Madison said his personal goal is to make a decision before the end of the year, something that may not be possible, he said, because of the holiday's effect on contractors and architects who are providing him information.

Madison, who grew up in Asheville, said he's not surprised by the storm the building has kicked up. He is surprised, he said, by its virulence.

"We certainly expected some concern, but got probably more than I anticipated," he said. "People are passionate about Asheville."

Contact Clark at 232-5854 or [email protected]

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/14/03)

COUNCIL, ALL STAKEHOLDERS IN PLAN TO REDEVELOP 'THE BLOCK' SHOULD EMBRACE CHANGE TO WORK OUT FLAWS

By Asheville Citizen-Times

After languishing for nearly a decade, it seems a bit odd that a project to redevelop "The Block," the historic heart of Asheville's African-American commercial district, can't wait another 30 days, but that's the conclusion Asheville City Council reached last week.

Despite pleas for more time from a task force working to resolve conflicts between South Market Street property owners and the Eagle Market Street Redevelopment Corporation, the city decided to place the issue on its agenda for this week.

The Eagle Market Street Redevelopment Corporation is a private non-profit chosen by the city to oversee the project, which will involve a substantial amount of money in the form of federal grants and guaranteed low-interest loans administered by the city.

If the federally funded loans are not approved soon, the cost of rising interest rates could threaten private funding, developer David Rogers said, even though the Federal Reserve Board just this week signaled that it intends to keep interest rates low, at least for the foreseeable future.

The unresolved conflict now appears likely to result in a lawsuit by the owners of a South Market Street restaurant, who said they plan to take legal action to stop the $6.6 million project from going forward. The owners of The Ritz restaurant, Gene Ellison and Howard McGlohon, complain that they and other property owners and community members have been left out of the planning process. They also say that despite by-laws that call for community members to be included on the Eagle Market Street Redevelopment Corporation board, the mayor and City Council failed to properly appoint Asheville residents to serve as members of the redevelopment commission.

Along with the rehabilitation of five buildings, the redevelopment plan calls for a new four-story building on South Market Street next door to Ellison's and McGlohon's restaurant. A draft of Ellison's and McGlohon's legal complaint says the proposed building would not meet the 1993 requirements City Council approved for the area.

This is only the first phase of the redevelopment project and there are some valuable lessons for City Council in the way it's playing out.

First, it is council's responsibility to make certain that the Eagle Market Street Redevelopment Corporation Board includes representatives of all the major stakeholders including property owners, the YMI Cultural Center, and area tenants and merchants. One of the objectives of the South Pack Square Redevelopment Plan, adopted in 1993 and amended in 1996, was to create a close working relationship among all those stakeholders.

By having everyone at the table from the beginning, conflicts can hopefully be resolved before they end up in a court of law.

Second, council is obligated to see that whoever develops the property is true to the goals included in the Redevelopment Plan. Those goals include stimulating and nurturing small business development and job creation, primarily for, but not limited too, the African-American community and for working to ensure the long-term affordability of commercial space for small businesses and the long-term availability of housing for low- to moderate- income residents.

If the flaws are worked out now and the process is honored, the chances for avoiding future disputes over redevelopment will be greatly enhanced. More importantly, by having all the stakeholders at the table there is a much greater chance that the redevelopment will meetthe goals and objectives laid out in the original plan.

The Asheville community will benefit greatly by redeveloping this diverse and historic part of our city that honors the heritage of African Americans and celebrates the cultural richness of all our citizens. Now is the time for the key stakeholders to work together to make this happen.

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/15/03)

A HISTORIC REHABILITATION PROPOSED FOR THE BLOCK

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - The engraved eagle floats in a block of sunset pink granite, snug in a brick sidewalk on one side of Eagle Street just south of Asheville's Pack Square. To one side, several longtime businesses share the block with newer stores.

But across the street, several storefronts are empty. Boards cover windows and doors.

Just south of Pack Square, this eagle is one of a string of tiles linking the city's Urban Trail, a trail that highlights important historic spots. It is just one stop on the city's "museum without walls."

But this particular eagle -itself inspired by Eagle Street - rests just feet from the center of a controversy about how one element of the city's heritage will be preserved and redeveloped.

Down the street, an intersection of Eagle and Market streets marks the center of what many call "The Block." The heart of Asheville's African-American commercial district, it is 22 acres cared and worried over by many church and community leaders who have invested time and money to stop the drugs and decay that once overran the area.

Though meetings about the area's future continue behind Asheville's open and closed doors, the redevelopment plan charting out the area's future is unique in the state, local and state preservation officials said.

And it's happening in Buncombe County, the county with the most state and federal tax credits going to commercial historic rehabilitation.

If Asheville City Council agrees to continue funding the proposal on Tuesday, six local and state historic preservation officials say, the project will be one of a handful in the state to redevelop more than one property in an intact and historic African-American commercial district at a time.

Coordinated by Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp., the proposal affects six existing buildings. Finished, the project will include a new four-story building and have 47 apartments and ground-level small-business areas.

Not Building by Building

Certainly, the local proposal isn't completely alone.

Durham has Parrish Street, the "Black Wall Street." Rocky Mount is working on Douglas Block. Raleigh has Moore Square. In countless other North Carolina cities and communities, single churches, hospitals and businesses have been renovated.

"I think it's one thing that strengthens the culture and community of the area," said Joyce Dickens, chief executive officer of Rocky Mount-Edgecombe Community Development Corp. The organization led her communities' redevelopment of Harambee Square, a four-building project completed in 1994 that now includes elderly housing and nonprofit resources.

But according to several state historic preservation officials, most rehabilitation - particularly of commercial buildings - happens building by building, developer by developer.

"I see it as a renaissance, not just building by building, but of the whole area," Asheville resident Sophie Dixon said. She spent many years in the area helping to organize community celebrations like Goombay and to restore the YMI building, which sat for years in disrepair.

"It's not that there's been lack of interest by any means," said Myrick Howard, president of the Raleigh-based Preservation North Carolina, of other projects in the state. "I think it ends up being some real tentativeness on some people's parts (because) you want to try to get a balance between the people who have been there and have had businesses there, and yet you need an infusion of new money and new businesses."

Though boards still cover windows and doors still remain locked in many buildings in the area, for at least the last decade, different plans and studies have proposed ways to revitalize the area.

John Horton, a restoration specialist in Asheville with the State Historic Preservation Office, said his office was one of many to do so. Horton's office has reviewed several elements of the proposed project, including plans for the Del Cardo building and the proposed new four-story structure.

"It's a very intact area right there," he said. "I'm glad to see there's finally some work going on down there."

And the proposal isn't alone within the city limits. Developers completed a renovation of 11-buildings on Pack Square in 1992.

Tuesday's vote and the state's attention

But it's not a sure thing yet. Over the last month, Asheville City Council has been on the verge of continuing to fund the project. On Tuesday, a vote is scheduled during a formal meeting.

If council says yes, construction can begin on the $6.6 million project. Corporation representatives said it would be just the first phase of what could be a four-phase, $22 million redevelopment project.

But not everyone is happy with the proposal. Some in the community have called for more input into the plan. They say the plan deviates from the City Council-approved 1993 South Pack Square Redevelopment Plan's vision for the area.

At City Council's last work session, South Market Street property owners Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon announced their intent to sue the city to stop the plan. One of their major complaints is that the proposed four-story project - which would be located next to their Ritz building - "substantially deviates" from the redevelopment proposal and the organization's own proposals.

While the debate continues, state leaders and preservation specialists are watching.

"Downtown Asheville's wonderful," Howard said, "and certainly the Eagle Street area is one of the more prominent African-American commercial districts left in North Carolina."

Myrick and others said other cities have wrangled with redevelopment, too. Raising enough money to do more than one project at a time and collaboration between local officials and developers have been problems.

"Thanks to urban renewal - before historic preservation gained in popularity - a lot of businesses were totally torn down or rehabbed unsympathetically," said Claudia Brown, architectural survey coordinator of the NC State Historic Preservation Office.

"There would be people who would be very concerned about black businesses being displaced by white businesses in an area that was a historically African-American business area," Howard said. "It's a bit more sensitive when you have an African-American business district. You want to have the right things happen and it gets more complex."

Benjamin Speller, chairman of the North Carolina African- American Network for Historic Preservation, said The Block project is unique because the proposal not only preserves the city's history but also keeps an eye on the future. Speller is also a professor at North Carolina Central University and is involved in Durham's Parrish Street effort.

He said that though other groups may have more money, Asheville is a leader both in its planning process - just in the fact that a written plan has been created - and that a diverse group has championed the issue.

"Remember that the reason so many of these are in economic decay is because the economy went down and no one had the vision to reinvent themselves," Speller said.

Buncombe leads in historic preservation tax credits

But economics is still the name of the game.

Developers and corporation representatives have said the project must continue despite requests for more public input. Delay, they said, and risk rising interest rates that could threaten more than $4 million in proposed private- sector investments.

But the proposal also depends on a state and federal tax credit program. The plan depends on nearly $1 million in proposed tax credits.

According to state officials, Buncombe County leads the state in the use of tax credits for historic preservation, even above Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

Tim Simmons, senior preservation architect with the State Historic Preservation Office, said that as of last year, 126 commercial projects in the county have received tax credits since 1976, when historic preservation tax credits were created. He said the total construction cost for those projects was just over $67 million.

The closest ranked counties, Simmons said, are New Hanover or Wake counties, where Wilmington has done 121 projects and Raleigh has done 70.

State and federal tax credits give a 40 percent income tax credit, said Asheville's State Historic Preservation Office representative, John Horton.

Though only the YMI building has been officially designated a local landmark building, a portion of the area is included in Asheville's national register district, making it eligible for tax credit incentives, said Stacy Merten, director of Asheville's Historic Resources Commission.

Horton said that the State Historic Preservation Office has only reviewed the project under the National Historic Preservation Act, a federal law requiring review when federal funding or permits are involved. His office, he said, has not yet reviewed the project for preservation tax credits.

Whatever it takes, Dixon is glad to see some momentum happening with the project. Dixon said that as a child she used to walk through the area to go to school at Stephens- Lee High School.

"That's been our focus, from the time we organized, was to try to retain that sense of community," she said. "And I think we still have that and are on the way to revitalize the whole thing instead of continuing to do it piece by piece."

On Tuesday, City Council will decide whether the current plan outlining a possible future for Eagle and Market streets will continue, an area that has inspired the city's symbol of cultural heritage and diversity.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (12/17/03)

COURT ORDER STOPS VOTE ON 'BLOCK'

By Angie Newsome

ASHEVILLE - "The Block's" future is in limbo.

A Buncombe County Superior Court judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order against the city of Asheville and a local corporation heading a downtown redevelopment plan that could change the face of the historic center of Asheville's African-American commercial district.

Mayor Charles Worley announced the restraining order Tuesday during the City Council meeting, which had included a scheduled vote on whether to give more than $1.1 million in federal grants and loans toward a $6.6 million redevelopment plan for the area.

Worley said because of the order, the council could not continue discussion on the proposal, which is being coordinated by Eagle/Market Streets Development Corp., the main development agency on The Block.

If completed, the corporation's project targeting Eagle and Market streets could add 47 apartments and several ground-floor commercial spaces to the area now dotted with empty buildings and deserted storefronts.

The restraining order was issued in response to a lawsuit South Market Street property owners Eugene Ellison and Howard McGlohon filed against the city and the corporation to stop the redevelopment plan.

According to the complaint, Ellison and McGlohon contend that the 1993 South Pack Square Redevelopment Plan did not include plans for new construction of a four-story in-fill building on the vacant lot next to the Ritz Building, which the men own.

The complaint also said the city and corporation "acted in bad faith" by attempting to force business owners to accept the changes without due process. At the Dec. 9 council work session, corporation representatives said they were not willing to delay the proposal because of the threat of higher interest rates.

After Tuesday's council meeting, corporation representative James Geter said they intend to fight the ruling.

A hearing has been set for Dec. 30.

Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or [email protected]

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*Just thought I'd throw this out: here's the text of a letter to the editor I emailed to the Asheville Citizen-Times tonight. It will probably appear in the paper in about a week or so.*

---

To the Editor:

It’s been said before and now again: discouraging downtown development only encourages suburban sprawl. Thus, some downtown property owners hurt Asheville by suing to prevent development on ‘The Block,’ by telling developers not to bother building downtown; instead keep making places like Tunnel and Hendersonville roads bigger nightmares than they already are.

Honestly, how much more sprawl do people want for Asheville? Isn’t it enough the city’s gateways already are ulcers of traffic congestion and strip malls? Isn’t it enough that residential sprawl already spreads like gangrene throughout Buncombe County? Why fight sensitive smart growth a progressive city like Asheville deserves? Why fight smart growth that puts stumbling blocks in the path of this region’s uncontrolled sprawl? Why fight Asheville’s only means of maintaining beauty and vibrancy as it grows?

Perhaps it’s just greed, or an abnormal affection for parking lots. Regardless, if the plaintiffs love their parking lot enough to sue to protect it from smart growth, they ought to move to Hendersonville Road, where they’ll have all the parking they can stand and won’t have nasty new urbanism ruining that wholesome asphalt goodness.

Although personally, I think suing to protect parking lots foretells Asheville’s future decline.

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Nope, no reply yet. Hasn't been posted either. It usually takes a few days. Sometimes three or four, sometimes about week -- I don't know when exactly it will appear in the paper. I kind of regret that I toned it down so much.

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Hoo boy, metro... the papers up here like nothing more than to publish something that will get people talking. I'm actually kind of familiar to local newspaper readers up here. I write whenever someting bugs me and for a while there that was about twice a month. My mom still gets people coming up to her to tell her they're looking forward to my next letter. It's actually kind of nice to be known for something. I know there are a lot of people who support me, and a lot who hate my guts -- and that just gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling! It's so nice to know I'm offending the right people.

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