State of the arts: City Council closes in on problematic R.A.D. property

After a recent spate of assault and trespassing reports, the long-derelict property at 91 Riverside Drive known as the Ice House has gone from a neighborhood nuisance to municipal real estate.

Following an Oct. 27 homicide in the building, Asheville City Council accelerated its plans to purchase the lot, which has been on the city’s shortlist for years, according to Council member Gordon Smith, who also cited the area’s increasing commercial development as a reason for the acquisition. “The purchase is part of the greater strategy of the total riverfront redevelopment,” he says.

In a Nov. 16 statement, Public Information Officer Dawa Hitch announced that the city had “recently acquired an option to purchase the property.” Adding, “We are negotiating with the current owners, and approaching what we hope will be a closing date.”

The statement was addressed to the West End/Clingman Avenue Neighborhood (or WECAN), River Arts District Business Association and the River Arts District Artists. On Nov. 12, the organizations sent a letter to the city and the property owners, Tootie Lee and Anne Simmons, describing the recent surge of violent crime and what they deemed the “perfect storm” of homeless occupants and unsafe structural conditions. The organizations asked that the city to step in and secure the property by Nov. 16.

“It’s an incubator for crime and violence,” says Cara Gilpin, a Wedge employee and RAD community member active in the matter.

Two recent assault cases believed to have originated in the Ice House led to the victims showing up at the Wedge Brewery, according to Gilpin. In one incident, a visibly battered and bleeding man sought refuge in the taproom, where he passed out.

In a separate incident two Wedge employees assisted another injured man, eventually transporting him to a downtown shelter, Gilpin says. Days later on Oct. 27, police responded to a reports of a dispute between two men, later identified as Ian Allen and Andrew Marsh. The incident resulted in an alleged homicide when Marsh died after being transported to Mission Hospital. Allen was subsequently charged with second-degree murder.

“It just continues to sit there,” says Gilpin, “and to see violence associated with the River Arts District will be harmful in the long run.”

According to Pattiy Torno, a RAD artist since 1989, “the city has taken more responsibility [for the property].” Torno owns Curve Studios on Riverside Drive. She’s observed increased police activity and a timely response to neighborhood concerns. “The City has the neighborhood’s best interest at heart,” Torno says.

Hitch reiterated Smith's point, that “the economic development potential for the property was one of the main driving forces for acquiring the option.” The current incarnation of City Council began the acquisition process in earnest, but Smith says that purchasing the property has been on the City Council’s agenda since 2004, when the Wilma Dykeman Riverway Plan was adopted.

That year, following major flooding in the River District and Biltmore Village, the city of Asheville received three planning grants totaling $40,000 from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, via the N.C. Legislature.

At a June 2010 event, Mayor Terry Bellamy announced the city’s next step — the “launch of an environmental study and preliminary redesign process for Riverside Drive and Lyman Street,” according to a release from that time.

But plans for developing the property are still uncertain — the city has yet to finalize the purchase. Many neighborhood groups, such as WECAN, support demolishing the 52,280-square-foot structure and cleaning up the surrounding 3.4 acre property. Clearing the space would contribute to the goals set forth by the Dykeman plan, but securing the property with extensive fencing is still another option. Either way, Smith says “it’s important that the city play a role here.”

Property Tax Valuation 101

A new community-forum series, IN4M, commences Wednesday, Dec. 5, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Artery, 346 Depot St. The event is sponsored by the River Arts District Business Association and hosted by the Asheville Area Arts Council.

RADBA and AAAC have partnered to create an educational outlet for neighborhood and city occupants interested in the development of the RAD.

According to RADBA member Pattiy Torno, these meetings are followups to unanswered questions from the Oct. 9 arts-based candidates forum at the Phil Mechanic Studios.

The first event, “What makes property taxes change?” will cover many of the basics of the county’s property-tax assessment process. Gary Roberts, Buncombe County’s tax director, and Stephanie Monson, the Asheville’s riverfront coordinator, will be present to discuss and answer questions. Admission is free.

Kyle Sherard writes about the visual arts for Xpress and can be reached at kyle.sherard@gmail.com.

 

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