Asheville City Council approves 51 Biltmore Ave. project

After two and a half hours of public debate and discussion on Jan. 25, Asheville City Council members gave the go-ahead for a parking-deck, hotel development at 51 Biltmore Ave. in downtown. The project passed 5-2, with Council members Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith voting against it.

Council members also approved, unanimously, selling the Reid Center to the Housing Authority for $254,500, and moving $480,000 (out of the capital fund) to pay for Civic Center renovations now. The latter is part of deal to bring the Southern Conference basketball tournament to town.

Here’s a compilation of Senior News Reporter David Forbes’ live dispatches via Twitter (stay tuned for the full report in our Feb. 2 print edition):

4:44 p.m. Asheville City Council meeting begins in 15. Follow #avlgov for coverage #avlnews
4:51 p.m. Downtown Assoc staff huddled over laptop in almost-full Council chambers, many attendees wearing “sidewalks for safety” stickers


5:02 p.m. Council chambers packed, meeting about to begin


5:05 p.m. And we’re off, proclamations for A-B Tech Pres Hank Dunn, Black History Month and Catholic schools week up first.


5:13 p.m. Dunn to Council: Avl-Buncombe won’t bring in “Boeing or Ford,” but “we can grow our own” jobs


5:16 p.m. Bellamy to Asheville Catholic School students before reading proclamation: “Smile, you’re on camera.”


5:18 p.m. Mayor Bellamy on Black History month proclamation: reminder of what’s been accomplished, still needs to be done


5:21 p.m. Consent agenda passes unanimously, Council chooses to delay pawn brokers electronic records ordinance


5:25 p.m. City budget audit for 2009-10 fiscal year now. Staff: $11-12 million in reserve, auditors found no improprieties


5:31 p.m. Auditor Brian Broom: Found no improper spending of fed, state funds, but found two “internal control weaknesses,” now fixed


5:36 p.m. Broom: City fund balance, bond rating, debt all seem fine, within standards. Only problems due to financial software switch


5:39 p.m. Council members Russell, Bothwell praising staff for dealing with software switch well. Bellamy has “concerns,” upset about delay


5:41 p.m. Bellamy: “I don’t have the same level of comfort with the internal controls” or delay, wants whole Council to approve of corrections


5:44 p.m. Staff: delays due to turnover, software system change, re-organization of accounts structure


5:45 p.m. Without those three factors, staff say next year’s audit should be on time


5:46 p.m. Bellamy: “fund balance is going in wrong direction,” need to find ways to increase


5:49 p.m. Russell: with spending cuts, savings, reserves will make up greater percentage of city budget


5:51 p.m. Staff elaborating that state delay in giving city its sales tax refund meant fund balance rise was also delayed


5:53 p.m. Bellamy to Council: Part of my job to question auditors


5:56 p.m. Update on metered on-street parking for the handicapped


5:56 p.m. On to stimulus funds update: increase in funds for North Fork treatment plant’s improvements passes 6-1, Bellamy against


5:58 p.m. Since Dec, 31, city issued 2,060 parking overtime citations, 101 to people with handicapped placard


5:59 p.m. City has six Battery Park Apartts residence on discounted parking, 3 ppl have purchased pre-paid meter parking


6:01 p.m. City still negotiating with AT&T to build new lot near Battery Park, 75+ hourly spaces


6:03 p.m. Transport Director Ken Putnam asking Council for authority to create four handicapped spaces next to Battery Park


6:05 p.m. Putnam: “That would go a long way to solving the problem in that particular area”


6:06 p.m. Battery Park resident Reilan Hanson: Since Civic Center parking made available for Battery Park residents, two people injured themselves


6:14 p.m. Council unanimously approves four new handicapped spaces near Battery Park


6:14 p.m. Hanson: With city making it more difficult for people w cars to live in Battery Park, danger of it becoming “HUD-subsidized flophouse”


6:17 p.m. Now onto consideration of the 51 Biltmore project, the night’s big issue


6:18 p.m. City’s Admin Director Lauren Bradley: Project must pass Council, then on to local government commission (due to its public-private nature)


6:21 p.m. More info on 51 Biltmore debate at http://bit.ly/eHarR2


6:22 p.m. Bradley: No city funds or economic incentive grants going to hotel/retail space part of project


6:22 p.m. Bradley: staff believe site good for parking deck because it will be mixed use, while standalone decks tamp down street activity


6:24 p.m. Bradley: Studies showed demand for parking, that’s not changed, though studies didn’t consider options such as a shuttle


6:24 p.m. Bradley: Council told staff in 2006 to pursue public-private partnership for parking, this is the result


6:26 p.m. Bradley: staff has been upfront that we’re paying greater than estimated market value for land


6:26 p.m. Bradley: Hotel would have to pay city for spaces in parking deck


6:28 p.m. Bradley: Original proposal shared use of deck with Public Interest Projects, didn’t feel that was in city’s interest


6:29 p.m. Bradley: After city decided to purchase parcel, found additional pruchase of Hot Dog King would decrease construction costs


6:30 p.m. Bradley: despite costs, staff felt more money saved by getting long-term lease, saving on construction


6:32 p.m. Bradley: If Council approves 51 Biltmore and LGC signs off in Feb, closing would happen in late February, construction begin in March


6:36 p.m. Bradley: Funds from 51 Biltmore deck and some others would pay off debt.


6:37 p.m. Bradley: By conservative estimates, parking will still make $400,000+ over expenses even while paying off 51 Biltmore debt


6:38 p.m. Bradley: Over 50 yrs, 51 Biltmore deck will make $23 million profit


6:40 p.m. Bradley: Parking decks often built by government because private sector “can’t wait 25 yrs” for profit


6:41 p.m. Bradley: Staff estimate project will spur redevelopment, more taxes in area, 405 jobs during construction, 118 after


6:42 p.m. John McKibbon of McKibbon hotel group, joking: “It’s good to see this much excitement about our project”


6:43 p.m. McKibbon: Project “win-win” and “tourism a low impact way” to grow community


6:47 p.m. PIP Pres Pat Whalen: Calls debate “a very painful education in public process,” phrases case for project “magic vs. facts”


6:48 p.m. Whalen: Decks helped downtown, foolish for opponents to assume “no one will be driving cars in 50 years” but dismiss city’s estimates


6:50 p.m. Whalen: “We can’t run a city on make-believe,” project will bring density, revenue, cost no taxpayer dollars


6:52 p.m. Biltmore business owner Laurey Masterton: Parking a “crucial” need in area, debate has become “painfully mean”


6:54 p.m. Robert Eides: City still looking at old stats to do new projects. “A progressive city” needs fringe parking, park-and-ride lots


6:56 p.m. Correction: name is Robert Eides


6:58 p.m. Asheville res Linda Brown: “Developer will tell you anything.” Not opposed to parking decks, but opposed to this parking deck


6:59 p.m. Brown: City will suffer a net loss, please vote no, let hotel build its own deck


7:00 p.m. Brown: City should use parking funds for sidewalks, buses, better projects


7:01 p.m. Gallery owner Harry Myers: Approve of project, will improve business.


7:02 p.m. Blue Spiral/Fine Arts owner John Cram: “We need parking in the present tense, not the future … Please vote yes.”


7:03 p.m. Asheville resident Kim McGuire: It takes private, public, nonprofit working together to create a good city. Parking, hotel rooms, jobs needed


7:04 p.m. McGuire: Situation not “either/or.” This project can provide density, revenue for greenways, other projects


7:05 p.m. Downtown property owner Jim Samsel: 51 Biltmore “critical” for downtown growth.


7:06 p.m. Samsel: “Good to see 21st century hotel replace 20th century parking lot.” Well thought-out project.


7:07 p.m. Highland resident Laura Brano: Council should delay project for greater scrutiny since claims about its finances vary greatly


7:08 p.m. Kenilworth resident Donald Warren: Never seem to have a problem finding parking downtown, feel we need parking, but oppose


7:09 p.m. Warren: while this is under construction, spaces in current lot won’t be available. More than parking brings people to downtown


7:11 p.m. Asheville resident Mark Bloom: Not really for or against, but want you to consider cost per space. Demand may not be there now


7:12 p.m. Bloom: Downtown businesses are hurting, but it’s not due to parking


7:14 p.m. Barley’s taproom owner: We’ve been waiting on a parking deck in that area for 16 years


7:15 p.m. Burt Samsel: Skeptical about revenue projections, “a red flag.” Not opposed to hotel, but urging Council to turn down deck


7:17 p.m. Asheville resident Leslie Anderson: I managed city parking for a number of years, work of local government in “catalyzing downtown” often ignored


7:18 p.m. Anderson: 51 Biltmore is a good opportunity, question should be “what is the best use of this property?”


7:19 p.m. Anderson, speaking for group of three people: If we develop properly, won’t have to worry about revenue


7:20 p.m. Anderson: City became vibrant again in 1980s-90s because of public-private partnerships like this


7:22 p.m. Anderson: parking decks created $200 million in investment in area, because “Council had courage and conviction”


7:24 p.m. Anderson: “We might wish society was in position to ignore need to store cars” but that’s not realistic.


7:26 p.m. Diana Wortham director John Ellis: There are deals that fall through due to lack of parking, “we’ve lost business,” need deck


7:28 p.m. Vincenzo’s owner Dwight Butner: Downtown Asheville been example of public-private partnership, “we need this deck”


7:30 p.m. PIP employee Harry Weiss: Downtown is “the one model that will get us to the density,” we need for better transit


7:30 p.m. Butner: Asheville a day’s drive from 80 percent of the nation’s population “No one’s going to drive here to park and get on a bus”


7:31 p.m. Weiss: Downtown is “the only place where people pay for choosing to use these cars”


7:32 p.m. Weiss: Parking on Tunnel Road, single-family neighborhoods free. If charged them, could fund all the sidewalks we’d need


7:33 p.m. Weiss: “You should be fighting this battle on Tunnel Road” as downtown makes outsize contribution to city


7:35 p.m. Pack Place chair Karen Tessier: “This is greatly needed,” decks have done much to catalyze downtown


7:36 p.m. Tessier: Lion’s share of people who come to Pack Place “are our own citizens,” not tourists, PIP not out to hurt community


7:38 p.m. Caterjohn: “You don’t know how wonderful you have it” with bond paid off, hang onto it, don’t need more parking


7:38 p.m. Asheville resident Karl Caterjohn: I’ve enjoyed many businesses downtown, never had to park farther than a block


7:39 p.m. Caterjohn: PIP in this “for profit, not public service” city should use funds on Civic Center


7:40 p.m. North Asheville resident Jake Quinn: Don’t have opinion, but “whole lot of questions”


7:41 p.m. Quinn: Wants to know what other measures city has considered to address parking, wants to see property tax analysis


7:43 p.m. Quinn: Parking demand different from deficit, spaces already in place


7:44 p.m. Montford resident David Nutter: I’m a city planner, feel project “a credit to city” will help preserve downtown at its best


7:46 p.m. Haw Creek President Chris Pelly: We’ve been pushing for sidewalks, if the city takes this debt on, our concern will delay that


7:48 p.m. Pelly: I wonder if day will come when non-downtown residents will get this kind of attention for infrastructure


7:49 p.m. Mobilia owner Bill Griffin: Need critical mass of people to support downtown, we need adequate parking for that


7:52 p.m. Downtown Association Director Joe Minicozzi: This deck is part of park-and-ride system, needed to create a “downtown loop”


7:54 p.m. Minicozzi: Asheville’s ahead of Portland here, decks there aren’t as well cloaked or designed


7:56 p.m. Kimberly Kabicki: Parking will be a problem as long as we keep building decks. “Do we really need another hotel?”


7:57 p.m. Kabicki: “Need to get out of car culture”


7:58 p.m. Asheville Wine Market owner Eberhard Heide: Waiting on this deck for 18 years, will alleviate a big problem


8:00 p.m. Asheville resident James Sheeler: Parking is not top priority, “getting serious about transit” is


8:01 p.m. Says Aspen-like shuttle system a better idea. “You run the risk of getting into a trap, things have changed”


8:02 p.m. Asheville business owner Bill Maloney: Don’t have trouble finding parking, but it just takes walking a block


8:03 p.m. Maloney: “People don’t come downtown to park,” dependable shuttle would be a big draw, “use this money for something more creative”


8:04 p.m. Megan Maloney: Fringe parking lots a better idea, need to get away from cars


8:06 p.m. Asheville resident Charlie Ball: Sees many similarities in Austin, TX. What gets past boom-bust cycle is partnerships like this project


8:07 p.m. Public comment closed.


8:10 p.m. Council member Bothwell: has parking deficit been helped by College Street deck? Putnam: Studies measured this specific part of town


8:12 p.m. Bothwell: decks do have a “ripple” effect, wondered what that deck had. Putnam: Mostly county employees, only open Mon-Fri


8:13 p.m. Bothwell: What occupancy rate do the projections assume? Bradley: They assume basically the current rate


8:15 p.m. Bothwell: What confidence do we have that costs won’t inflate? Public works director Cathy Ball: We’ve planned for up to a 10 percent rise


8:16 p.m. Bothwell: Downtown merchants seem to be biggest supporters, what ways could they fund this


8:17 p.m. Staff: At this point, a business improvement district (funded by extra tax on downtown) would be a “hard row to hoe”


8:18 p.m. Council member Bill Russell: Fourth year on Council, this was one of the 1st exciting projects I saw.


8:18 p.m. Bothwell: wanted to get that on table, BIDs often used to fund trolleys, similar transit improvements


8:19 p.m. Russell: Question I get from tenants, artists, business owners is “where do we park?”


8:21 p.m. Vice Mayor Brownie Newman: People “are very passionate about downtown” mostly agree on what to do, differ on how to get there


8:22 p.m. Newman: biggest threat is sprawl, antidote is pattern of development we have in downtown


8:23 p.m. Newman: Analysis shows we’ll have a net positive of $400,000 a year after this project, won’t take up all our funds


8:25 p.m. Newman: “Heard from community very loudly” that they want to see transit, greenway plans. Need to do this, but those too


8:26 p.m. Council member Esther Manheimer: “Downtown was dead” in 1988. Not through inaction, it’s become a vibrant place”


8:27 p.m. Manheimer: Wrong to frame this as though city’s got $14 milion to spend as we want. Some projects pay for themselves


8:28 p.m. Manheimer: “Unless we charge a toll, sidewalks don’t” make revenue. “More’s the pity”


8:29 p.m. Manheimer: We have contracts signed in this deal, “bad business practice” to pull out on parking deck element now


8:31 p.m. Council member Gordon Smith: “Appreciate intelligence and civility” of debate tonight, “it got pretty heated out there”


8:32 p.m. Bothwell: If we’re paying $1 mil a year on this, that’s $1 mil that could go elsewhere


8:32 p.m. Smith: would vote for project if we already had dedicated funding for sidewalks, transit. For me question of priorities


8:34 p.m. Bothwell: Will bring value, but sidewalks raise value of whole neighborhoods. “We’re diverting money that could go in that direction”


8:35 p.m. Bothwell: “Why haven’t we studied a shuttle?” Should be short-term priority. We have income stream that’s been freed up


8:36 p.m. Bothwell: that stream could go to sidewalks, transit, other options. “In uncertain times, seems latter is best option. Hold off”


8:37 p.m. As for projections, “50 years will see a lot of change.”


8:37 p.m. Bothwell: “Making economic assumptions on next 25 years based on past seems like not a great idea”


8:38 p.m. Bothwell: “Going to tell a kid playing in street that we spent money on deck” — to me “that’s not values” was elected to represent


8:40 p.m. Council member Jan Davis: “If there’s not something in downtown we’re going backwards… People drive cars to get into downtown”


8:42 p.m. Next resolution will approve deck itself, if passed


8:42 p.m. Downtown development amendment necessary for 51 Biltmore passes 5-2. Smith, Bothwell against


8:45 p.m. Davis concerned about price of property, asks why city is buying only part, not air rights


8:46 p.m. Bradley: PIP didn’t want to sell, transaction structure so city’s buying just space necessary to build garage


8:47 p.m. Bradley: Construction savings make up for increased land price. Davis: “Doesn’t make me feel good, but I understand it”


8:48 p.m. Bradley: Part of reason for paying premium is because site is uniquely suited to this kind of project.


8:49 p.m. Bellamy: “No property tax dollars, under any scenario, are going into this.” All money from people who use parking downtown


8:50 p.m. Bellamy: “Makes sense that we should use money collected downtown to help downtown”


8:51 p.m. Bellamy: Ever since I’ve been on Council, we’ve improved transit, because it’s right thing to do.


8:53 p.m. Bellamy: We’ve been planning to put a deck on the spot, openly, for some time.


8:54 p.m. Bellamy: Reason for location is because we stopped decks in more visible places, blocking views or intruding


8:55 p.m. Bellamy worried about people going to Savannah, Charleston if they can’t park near city core


8:58 p.m. 51 Biltmore deck approved 5-2. Smith, Bothwell against


8:59 p.m. 30 minute recess


8:59 p.m. Bellamy asks public “to stay engaged… We need you in Raleigh” to fight state cuts that will pass costs onto city


9:15 p.m. Back in session. Considering rezoning of 13 acres on Orchard Street from industrial to residential multi-family


9:18 p.m. Rezoning approved unanimously


9:20 p.m. Next rezoning for West Asheville plot from medium to high density to allow for a duplex already built on the site


9:21 p.m. Rezoning passes unanimously


9:24 p.m. Council now considering approving new signs for Mission Hospitals


9:27 p.m. Davis: Think these signs are good, but need for a Council vote on this points to fact sign ordinance “is onerous”


9:29 p.m. Council’s Planning and Economic development committee will look at ordinance


9:30 p.m. Mission Hospitals signs approved unanimously


9:31 p.m. Next up, sale of Reid Center to Housing Authority for use as training/education/green jobs center for $254,500


9:34 p.m. Sale contingent on Housing Authority receiving federal grant. If doesn’t go through, staff says city still has options for sale


9:36 p.m. Bellamy wonders how city insures Housing Authority keeps up promised use. HA staff: Grant requires us to


9:40 p.m. Reid Center sale passes unanimously


9:43 p.m. Council considering $480,000 (out of capital fund) in Civic Center renovations now, part of deal to bring Southern Conference to town


9:49 p.m. Civic Ctr renovations include increase in seating capacity, better locker rooms, more meeting rooms, larger concession stands


9:57 p.m. Civic Center renovations resolutions pass unanimously


10:00 p.m. Council endorses those unanimously


10:00 p.m. Council considering legislative items it will endorse, including Woodfin boundary, reconsidering aspects of Sullivan Acts


10:01 p.m. Russell, Newman endorse legislative “placeholder” item on agenda every other meeting to deal with matters that arise


10:04 p.m. Council unanimously endorses Mayor’s association agenda, including better funding for biotech, judicial system


10:05 p.m. Council unanimously endorses ability of municipalities to set up tax plans to fund energy improvements


10:07 p.m. Council now considering recommendation of Sustainability committee to incentives policy, including ENERGY STAR, more affordable housing


10:08 p.m. Russell concerned committee exceeded mandate by offering too many suggested changes. Newman: we asked them to address all “green” aspects


10:09 p.m. Bothwell: Previously, green element optional on incentives projects, now should be requirement


10:10 p.m. Newman: I supported Montford Commons, but time to set a higher bar for benefits


10:10 p.m. Russell to Bothwell: How does that square with precedent? Montford Commons wasn’t green


10:13 p.m. Manheimer: “This looks like it’s still a work in progress. What do we do with it?”


10:20 p.m. Newman in favor of increased requirements. “Projects need to be truly transformational.” Davis: “This has turned into a nightmare”


10:24 p.m. Council delays considering new incentives policy on “transformational” projects to Feb. 22


10:30 p.m. Public comment. Asheville resident Kyle Ross says she’s going to present research on courts system, APD


10:31 p.m. Ross asks Council to talk to attorney about rehiring Officer Roger Aly. Bellamy: We can’t discuss personnel issues


10:32 p.m. Bellamy: You can talk about aspects of police force, but not personnel. Attorney Oast: Council can’t, but public can


10:34 p.m. Ross: “I’d like you to hold police chief to guiding principles” will speak more at next meeting


10:35 p.m. Bothwell complimenting Cathy Ball on hiring people in rehab programs to clear snow off sidewalks


10:36 p.m. Meeting adjourned

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About Margaret Williams
Managing Editor Margaret Williams has been at Xpress since 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987.

16 thoughts on “Asheville City Council approves 51 Biltmore Ave. project

  1. Josh Benson

    “People drive cars to downtown” THAT’S PRECISELY THE PROBLEM WE NEED TO RESOLVE, NOT ENCOURAGE!

    This is an outrageous mistake on the part of city council and I’m deeply saddened that we’re dumping more millions of dollars into an ugly ass parking deck that no one will use while at the same time we’re cutting bus routes and doing absolutely nothing to make alternate modes of transportation viable at all.

    For shame, city council, for shame!

  2. shadmarsh

    Yeah, you’re right Tim. On the bright side though he gets to wake up everyday and not be you.

  3. dpewen

    Cecil and Gordon voted against and good for them … they did not like the deal.
    I am happy to see new downtown development … if downtown does not develop it will die.

  4. sharpleycladd

    It might be worthwhile to tune back in in, say, ten years, and see what sort of violence the Grove Arcade and this project have done to our property tax millage, but I’m sure we’ll get some jobs out of this “public-private partnership.”

  5. Downtowner

    Has anyone actually tried to get around downtown on a Friday or Saturday night and looked for parking? It’s not fun! This project will increase business along Biltmore Avenue. It will increase jobs, either in creating the project or in the businesses downtown, and if this had been done 4-5 years ago, I would bet that S&W wouldn’t be bankrupt, Flying Frog would still be alive and French Bar on Biltmore would still be open. Heck lots of places would still be open. A hotel right smack within walking distance to the Orange Peel? Great idea! I’d bet that bigger bands and headliners would start booking if they had better options. And of the few hotels we do have downtown, none of them are really that great, except maybe the Indigo which is close to the Civic Center and fairly new.

  6. Well Tim, I’ll be happy to compare notes with you in ten years, if we’re both so lucky.

    You say new oil is being created as we speak, don’t worry, be happy.

    I say the price of a diminishing resource is climbing fast and will very likely hit $5 in 2012 and continue up. Auto traffic will diminish, as will parking and parking receipts. Guess we’ll see.

    And as for “poor me” – standing up for what you believe is its own reward – an idea up which I’m pretty sure we both agree.

  7. dpewen

    That’s funny! You apparently have not been to Central America!

  8. Joe Minicozzi

    Let’s not forget that the existing decks (that are all now greater that 10 years old) are handsomely paying for themselves AND have donated close to half a million to mass transit last year.

    Hate the game, not the player.

    Indeed, we need more density to support transit, but we also have to understand the math of these projects and how they work in to benefit public needs beyond giving someone a parking space.

  9. Grant Millin

    If it ever gets built, I think 51 Biltmore will be more of a Pyrrhic victory than Joe likes to think. My prediction is that 51 Biltmore will represent what’s wrong with Asheville… especially if it actually gets built.

    The game is easy to hate. I’m tired of Mayor Bellamy putting controversial policies on the agenda during the Holidays and January. Citizens aren’t looking to discuss or learn about this kind of thing during this particular period.

    The fact that taxpayers are financing a parking deck that will, at least significantly in part, benefit a hotel giant, Starwood Hotels, is also annoying. Aloft is a subsidiary of W Hotels, both of which are Starwood.

    Starwood is not hurting for cash. Why are Asheville citizens building a parking deck mainly to support a Starwood outlet? To get the benefit of Starwood guests laying out cash in local businesses? True. Why are taxpayers more and more having to pay for jobs… in order to later get hired for the jobs we pay for through various incentive schemes (and maybe they are jobs that reinforce the low median wages in our regions as well)? Is that called New Capitalism… or what?

    Kimley-Horn did a 2008 AVL parking study in 2008, based on 2007 trends. They claimed that if all downtown businesses were fully occupied at 2 pm on a weekday we would be short 700 parking spaces. The study PPT presentation is on the COA Parking Services page.

    Kimley-Horn uses a very irresponsible set of infographics showing at least 50% of downtown being in a RED parking deficit area. I think that merchants got the idea that if they were in a red zone, they might lose customers. Anyone might feel that. Downtown merchants no doubt get complaints from custies that they can’t find parking. The members of council supporting 51 specifically cited the parking crisis.

    The semi-responsible aspect of the parking study was an emphasis on way finding. COA botched the last way lost; non-finding sign project, but that doesn’t mean smart solutions aren’t possible. After all the expensive, environmentally inefficient parking lot solutions aren’t coming tomarrow… Thus helping visitors get parking close to where they need to be makes a lot of sense and is something we can working on this quarter.

    Esther Manheimer has described the COA involvement as ‘self-funding’ and not an added tax. But news reports detail that COA is buying PIP land and paying for at least part of the parking deck. The taxpayer price tag ranges from $14.1 – $14.8 M. Is this a loan? Does it come from budget projections? It’s nice there are various forecasts out there, but the parking deck isn’t being built for free. Esther meant that future parking revenues will pay for the deck. Sure… Or we’ll pay through taxes and loss of services elsewhere if the 51 Biltmore deck makes a lot less money than projected; and considering travel gets really, really expensive over the next 5-10 years and the taxes projected from the 51 Biltmore hotel and retail shops are less than half of projected.

    The term density gets thrown around as part of the logic behind projects like The Ellington and 51. Do the special interests mean value propositions positioned for tourists and condo-dwellers? I live in East Asheville and now there are some nice cafes and I live next to the parkway. I would like more focus on adding great high tech businesses out here and in Swannanoa. I’d like to see great employers fill all empty office spaces and business park spots in South, North and West Asheville as well and I hope people will live close to where they work. That’s also ‘density’.

    Pat Whalen described 51 as “a tremendously complicated project”. Well, duh. We get that. The only problem is that no one party is telling the public the whole story. I include the media and the relatively small resources groups like PARC can try to muster to educated the public. This stuff matters and that Mayor Bellamy can’t back these initiatives with leadership clarity is concerning.

    I’m not saying there’s not some things downtown needs, but it’s just a crying shame that everyone’s mental and spiritual energies go down the drain because we have such mediocre leaders. I encourage folks to actually go through our fancy new Downtown Master Plan and compute if the way 51 Biltmore went down as a project proposal really matches up with any of the several strategies listed. If that’s the math, then 51 Biltmore gets a C-… and that’s really generous.

    Downtown businesses struggle for a lot of marketing science reasons. If we think of the downtown economy as being dependent on the sum of our parking spaces, or how many boutique hotels and retail options are available for out-of-region folks with the disposable incomes… [AVL/WNC local median incomes make us poor prospects for the current ‘real’ downtown vision]… That’s a very low level of innovation. It also seems to mask the real risks of a downtown economy with limited strategic market group diversity.

    The healthcare and manufacturing segments are not so much about downtown. Relying on tourists is not so good, especially as the cost of travel goes up… IMHO.

    We have fewer options as a community these days. It just seems like 51 Biltmore reinforces a generally anemic set of system dynamics for us rather than being a break out evolutionary ‘public-private’ innovation. I’m looking forward to smarter leaders emerging at all levels in 2011 and beyond. We do need financial engines to take care of social and environmental externalities and innovations that can take a lot of up front investment and time. It’s hard to see 51 being all that hot of an engine even 5-10 years from now.

    I don’t hate the capitalism game, but I thought Ashevillians were a special group of positive ethical innovators. It’s hard to imagine how this one got through… Except when the obvious is recognized: the special interests made sure things got done their way, yet again.

  10. Of course the purported “profit” hasn’t been reckoned in constant dollars. If one adjusts for average inflation the $26 million we are supposed to gain over 50 years is actually going to be worth less than $4 million* in 2011 dollars.

    Not much of a bargain.

    *(I used the U.S. Government inflation calculator for the past 50 years to get this figure)

  11. The handwriting was on the wall early on in the Council meeting….surrounding businesses pleading for how important this parking deck was for their sustainability….and how “scary” the opposition to it was.

    Yet I frequently shop that end of town and NEVER have a problem finding a parking space. Even on beautiful days of 70% weather when the FBFC tailgate market is buzzing.

    So, I have little faith that anything good for the majority of citizens will come of this, it only benefits a few.

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