As it has in the past, the city put up roadblocks during this year’s Bele Chere, restricting traffic.
But in doing so, access was limited to The Block, downtown’s historically African-American business district, hurting businesses there, says the Rev. John Grant of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Eagle Street.
“Each year, [the Bele Chere] committee has increasingly shut down access from all directions to both the “Block” and Mt. Zion parking lots, resulting in significant reductions in parking revenue, among other concerns,” Grant wrote in a July 28 e-mail to Mayor Terry Bellamy, Asheville City Council members and city staff.
Similar concerns came up at a July 28 meeting seeking input from the African-American community. “For the last three or four years, they tightened the noose and closed streets,” Grant said at the meeting.
By closing the street and not including The Block in Bele Chere planning, the city made it harder for local business owners to run their businesses, severely curtailing their revenues rather than increasing them, he and other community members asserted.
In response to their complaints, Bellamy and city staff met with Grant and other Block representatives.
“They apologized, and they promised that next year there will be representation from The Block on the [Bele Chere] committee,” Grant told Xpress. “Right now, the racial makeup of that committee is not very diverse either. They haven’t done a good job of including a lot of the community in the dialogue.”
Asked if the city will take a different approach to road closures next year, Grant said: “Well, that’s what they’re saying. But that’s why we want a representative on there, to ensure our voice is heard. This should help—and we’re glad they apologized.”
City Manager Gary Jackson told Xpress that the results of what he termed “a productive meeting” included “an invitation to [Grant] to offer names of people that might be suited to serving on the committee and a commitment on staff’s part to listen to their concerns and to review the plans and any traffic-blocking features with them two days prior to the festival.”