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Urban Riverfront Development Update

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This is an exciting project that has been in and out of the news over the past few years. They are talking about pitching ideas to developers to get things going, instead of using tax or non-profit dollars. I do worry about downtown. This could take artists away from the core, if it becomes a major tourist attraction. I like the talk of multi-storey buildings though. This project incorporates I lot of ideas I like. We need to get this parkway built and take this off the drawing boards and into reality. Anyways, here's the article on this exciting mixed use development.

By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

July 23, 2004 10:11 p.m.

ASHEVILLE - Property owner Ray Quate thinks the riverfront is "the next spot" for development in Asheville.

"It's clearly up and coming," he said. "How can we have the French Broad River run through our city and we're not doing anything with it? How can (growth) not migrate in that direction?"

Artist Barbara Fisher, whose studio is in the area, has heard it all before.

"It's kind of like the boy who cried wolf. We keep hearing about it and nothing changes. It still looks like it did six years ago," she said.

City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a long- delayed plan that might help foster a dramatic spurt of development along the river.

It calls for 17 miles of parkway along the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers in the city and construction or rehabilitation of 656,000 square feet of buildings along the French Broad, much for a mixture of housing and retail or office space.

The plan was drawn up by consultants working for RiverLink, a nonprofit that is an advocate for parks and greenways as well as urban development along the French Broad and Swannanoa.

RiverLink Executive Director Karen Cragnolin at one point said the plan would be complete in 2000. She has said since the complexity of the job has slowed work on it.

The plan suggests existing roads along the portion of the two rivers within the city limits be converted into a landscaped parkway with parallel bicycling or walking paths. What the plan calls the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay, to be named after a local author who wrote a book about the French Broad, would cost about $34 million.

It would also involve converting part of Swannanoa River Road and Thompson Street between Biltmore Village and a point a little west of the Circuit City store near Wood Avenue into one-way paired streets, plus construction of more crossings of the Swannanoa.

RiverLink is looking to the state Department of Transportation for construction of the parkway. It is listed on DOT's current seven-year plan, but the plan allocates no money to the project, Cragnolin said.

The plan envisions dense development just south of Smoky Park Bridge, which carries Interstate 240 over the French Broad. Closer to the bridge would be a "river arts" district with several multistory buildings with retail or office space on lower floors and residential space above.

A whitewater course could be constructed a little farther south that would help lure recreational businesses, the plan says.

RiverLink is having environmental testing done on some property it owns in the area.

Cragnolin said the group plans to identify parcels it and others own that are available for development and send a request for proposals next spring to national development companies in hopes of luring one to build in the area.

"We need something that's going to be big enough that it would influence the area," giving other property owners enough confidence to develop their property, she said.

Much of the area is in the flood plain, and the plan suggests prototype buildings with more open space on the first floor to comply with federal flood rules.

Fisher, a painter, said she has mixed feelings about what RiverLink plans, worrying that artists who were among the first to reuse several older buildings in the area might be pushed out if the plan is successful and rents rise.

RiverLink is aware of the issue and wants to keep artists in the area, said Cragnolin. "If you lose your authenticity, then you won't be a place anyone wants to go."

Quate is counting on artists to make his business venture on Depot Street go.

He plans to renovate buildings there into five loft-style apartments upstairs and storefront space where artists can both create and sell what they make on the first floor.

"I really believe that downtown has kind of priced itself out," he said. Riverfront development "has to happen because we've got this outrageous river running right through town."

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]

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