Mayor Terry Bellamy told members and guests of the Asheville Downtown Association gathered for a “State of the Downtown” luncheon Jan. 8 that the city has made real strides to make downtown better, but that more needs to be done.
Since she took office in 2005, Bellamy said, the city has increased efforts to keep downtown clean, with added trash pickup and more frequent street sweeping and flushing. The number of trashcans downtown also has increased, from 110 to 138. Despite that relatively small increase, Bellamy noted that the sidewalk receptacles cost the city $1,000 per unit.
But despite accomplishments and improvements both big and small, Bellamy noted that several other issues demand heightened attention.
For starters, the city needs to get tougher on predatory towing, and she also expressed her disdain for the visual blight, and sidewalk impediments, created by the preponderance of downtown newspaper boxes. “I support free speech,” Bellamy said, “but we have to examine how many newsstands we have and how they look.”
More pressing social issues such as graffiti and aggressive panhandling also deserve greater focus, the mayor added. While police have stepped up efforts to arrest and prosecute taggers and so-called graffiti artists, City Council should re-examine the possibility of putting some of the onus on property owners who allow graffiti to languish on their buildings, she argued. (A few years ago, a task force made several recommendations to Council on such social issues as graffiti and panhandling. One recommendation was to mandate a certain time period within which property owners must remove graffiti, since quick removal often deters further vandalism.)
“Now is the time we’re going to have to make the tough decisions and say: 72 hours? Two weeks? What’s the maximum time we can go and allow this to remain on buildings?” Bellamy said.
As for the homeless and panhandlers, Bellamy has asked aid organizations such as Western Carolina Rescue Ministries to hold their clients more accountable for unwanted behaviors, which they are now doing, she said, as well as prod clients into positive endeavors such as helping build bus shelters and pick up trash.
In that vein, Bellamy noted that city government needs the help of individuals and groups to more fully address these and various other challenges facing downtown. “Asheville’s downtown is the crown, but it’s a crown that needs to be polished,” she said.