Xpress received a large volume of letters about the proposed agreement between the city of Asheville and U.S. Cellular. Announced on Nov. 10, the deal would grant naming rights to the Chicago-based company in exchange for an investment of “up to $1.3 million over eight years.” The deal is subject to Council approval, scheduled for the Nov. 22 meeting.
Dozens of readers responded with a similar argument — the negotiations were too covert; corporate sponsorship clashes with Asheville’s distinct character; the bidding process for such a deal should be open — but many of the perspectives are unique. One reader applauds the potential deal.
In the following special post, Xpress compiled the letters on the proposed agreement. Attribution details appear at the end of each letter.
To review the initial announcement, go here.
For Council member Gordon Smith’s “point-counterpoint” analysis, go here.
The People Advocating Real Conservancy group condemned the deal, including a note of opposition from Tom Outlaw, the vice president of sales and marketing for Ingles Markets, available here.
Letters to the editor: U.S. Celllar edition.
Stop! Let the city’s citizens weigh in over such an important decision! —Helen Bodel, Asheville
To have the Asheville Civic Center renamed when it was not even open to bids is ridiculous! The very least that should be done is that any renaming be open to bids and be open to the public! — Kathleen G. Johnson, Alexander
I am appalled at the unannounced, evidently private decision to sell the naming rights to the Asheville Civic Center to U.S. Cellular. Do we get to read the email and other dialogue that must accompany this decision? Do we have a policy on selling these rights? I believe that if we are going to sell the naming rights for public buildings and institutions, we should do so openly, allowing the marketplace to set the price through an announced and open bidding process. I am sure we have a few Asheville-based companies, like Ingles, FLS Energy or Blue Ridge Biofuels, that would be interested in bidding — even regional companies like Earth Fare or Harris Teeter should be given: No. 1, an opportunity to bid and, No. 2, some priority as profit centers and local job creators.
Chicago-based U.S. Cellular? Really? They do not even have a call center here. Yes, they provide jobs, but what else do they have invested in the region? Do we really want this to be the brand that represents much of the arts and entertainment that come to our great city?
While we’re at it, we may as well sell the names to City Hall and Pack Memorial Library.
The $1.3 million price does not, as erroneously reported, equal a 2 percent tax increase; rough calculations estimate the income from the U.S. Cellular deal to equal a 0.2 percent increase in tax revenue. At a minimum, I encourage the outgoing City Council to vote “no” on this unannounced indiscretion, and recommend that Mayor Bellamy create a plan for what structures and institutions are available for corporate open bidding on the name, and create a competitive bidding process, which may well bring in better than the private U.S. Cellular deal. — Andrew Stephens, Asheville
The “behind-the-scenes deal” between Mayor Bellamy and the U.S. Cellular is an outrage. There is an odious smell in the Asheville air. City Council members, stand up. Vote no, and open up this process to the public — where it belongs. — Jeanine Maland. Asheville
The Civic Center name-change seems high-handed to me. The citizens of Asheville/Buncombe County should have a voice in this. Only after due consideration is given to citizen input should any vote be taken by Council. — Anne D. Campbell, Asheville
Let’s give Ingles a chance to bid on the Civic Center naming. It seems like Ingles is a more community organization. — Richard Warren, Asheville
I can’t believe Council would consider allowing the Asheville Civic Center to be renamed without letting it be known publicly that this was under consideration.
How in the world did U.S. Cellular get in the picture? It is a joke. Personally, I think it should be named — if a change is to be — the Thomas Wolfe Civic Center. Let the big guys pay for this and put their name on a plaque. But, U.S. Cellular? Or, even Ingles? OMG. — Anne Ray, Flat Rock
The only thing more stupid than “The U.S. Cellular Center” (really rolls off the tongue — say it quickly five times!) is the way the “decision” was reached. Yes, we can certainly use the money, but what happened to the democratic process? — Betsy Haber, Asheville
Congratulations on the sale of naming rights to the Civic Center. Job well done! — Bob Carr, Asheville
Did someone “jump the gun” here? Why wasn’t the opportunity to buy naming rights for the Asheville Civic Center open to the highest bidder? In not doing so Asheville loses in more ways than one. If a local corporation bought those rights to the name we would benefit with the revenue from the sale as well as indirectly from the publicity over the years for local business. Why was this decision made without public opinion? Please open this opportunity publicly so everyone will benefit. —Dana Irwin, Asheville
This name trade to U.S. Cellular is a shady undertaking — $1.3 million over eight years is hardly a lot of money when you think about it. It comes to $162,500 a year. Why would the mayor and City Council members agree to such an absurd, meager trade? Why has this not gone out for open bid? The Civic Center is in great need of updates, repairs and maintenance, but $162,500 will not even come close to covering these costs. Something is not right. We must all ask ourselves, who is getting paid off? Who is promised a good future after they leave office? — Brenda Abrams, Woodfin
What was Mayor Bellamy and whoever was part of this disgusting idea to rename the Civic Center thinking? Aren’t we having a revolution in this country in the form of Occupy Wall Street against the takeover of our government and greed of corporations in all facets of our lives? Asheville, which fights tooth and nail to keep out chain stores in town and supports small, local businesses, is now going to permit a big corporation to put its name on a landmark building for a measly million dollars over eight years. Outrageous. Disturbing. Asheville doesn’t have to be like other cities and sell out. We are leaders not followers. Mayor Bellamy should run for higher office — in another state. — Margo Klein, Asheville
How un-Asheville, and how typical of politicians, that Mayor Bellamy made a secret deal with a corporation, only announcing it when it was seemingly a done deal.
I urge Council to vote “no” on the action to rename the civic center U.S. Cellular. Then perhaps we can have a process with community input. If we are going to sell the name at least have an open process with the possibility of other corporations having a bid. And do we, as a community, care what kind of corporation has naming rights? I would be one who would hope the corporate sponsor would be a responsible one, one that honored openness and didn’t spend money lobbying for issues that are not in our community’s best interest. — Arida Emrys, Asheville
I returned from out of town to a newspaper headline about the Civic Center name-change. It was quite an ‘”un-welcome home” greeting. My first reaction was, “you gotta be kidding,” followed by, “Gee, at the very least, couldn’t it be U.S. Cellular Civic Center?” It would surely advertise sufficiently, while maintaining the integrity of Civic Center’s name. — Ann Albrecht, Asheville
I was appalled to hear Mayor Bellamy on the local news talking about the Asheville Civic Center’s name being changed to U.S. Cellular. That is atrocious and completely distasteful. The only thing worse is that the deal was made in secret from the public. This kind of decision should be openly discussed so that the citizens of Asheville can weigh in. If we’re going to sell the name of the Civic Center, at least open it up so that we can get the highest bidder and make the most money from it. We should decide, not Mayor Bellamy. I hope that City Council will stand up and vote “no” for this deal. It needs to be researched further and opened up for competitive bidding, if that’s the route we decide to take to raise funds for the civic center. — Debbie Metcalf, Asheville
PARC makes several valid points regarding the recently announced name change of the Civic Center to the U.S. Cellular Center. What is behind all the secrecy of the sudden change? Why wasn’t there any notice to the public that there was a move afoot to sell the name? Was any attempt made to obtain bids for the name change or was it U.S. Cellular or nothing? The whole matter smacks of a certain amount of “hanky panky,” a set-up for a lame-duck Council to confirm the deal. It would appear that if U.S. Cellular was interested in paying $1.3 million over an eight-year period for the name change from Asheville Civic Center, there might well have been other entities willing to pay $2.5 million or more. Were “bids” put out by the City Council?
Most are aware that the Civic Center is in dire need of major repair. In fact, I wonder how safe the structure really is. Is $1.3 million over an eight-year period going to be enough to make “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”? — Neil M. Barrett, Asheville
I am totally ashamed of the non-progressive way the Civic Center improvements contract was done. There should have been publicized, open, competitive bidding. — Maggi Zadek, Fairview
Do you know why we have so many rare, older buildings in downtown Asheville? It’s because during the Great Depression, Asheville chose to pay off its debt rather than accept a government bailout. It took many decades to pay off the debt, but had we accepted the government aid, Asheville would have been subject to urban planning programs that would have mandated the destruction of many of the distinctive architectural gems that contribute to our town’s special character. In the 1930s, Asheville’s proud independence and focus on long-term goals preserved much of the charm that makes Asheville a tourist mecca today. Now, U.S. Cellular wants to buy naming rights to our Civic Center, and slap their brand on a one of Asheville’s prime venues. This crass commercialism threatens our civic independence and would constitute yet another unfortunate step toward the transformation of our unique town into another bland splotch on the map of The United States of Generica. Tell City Council you oppose this scheme! — David Lynch, Asheville
We were stunned to hear that the Asheville Civic Center would be renamed for such a paltry sum! We were stunned again to hear that it was a noncompetitive, secret deal. This is not how the public’s business should be conducted. Let’s hope the City Council does the right thing and rejects this lousy deal! — Al and Betsy Gumpert, Asheville
Stop! Don’t give away naming rights to the Civic Center to U.S. Cellular. If this is going to happen at all, it must happen in a transparent fashion. There must be an open bid for such a fabulous advertising opportunity. What if Asheville’s two homegrown grocery stores (Ingles and Earth Fare) want to bid? — Diana Lieb, Asheville
I think City Council can do better for Asheville and Western North Carolina than giving away the naming rights without a hearing and an open bidding process. — Jack Hall, Swannanoa
Do not give away naming rights to the Asheville Civic Center without formal discussion and a credible bidding process! I am a voter, and I feel that I wasn’t represented in this action. — Marianne Cote, Asheville
As a tax-paying homeowner in Asheville, I am appalled by the lack of an open-bidding process for naming rights to our Civic Center. I want City Council, representing me, to vote “no” and then open the bidding to all interested in winning the rights. I prefer that some other source of funding be found instead of attaching yet another corporate name to a publicly owned property. Alas, I also understand the necessity for funds to accomplish improvements to this aging structure. At the very least, just for the best financial benefit for us all, make this a transparent open bidding process; it just makes good business sense. — Max Poppers, Asheville
Please respect our community and its values by not changing the name of our beloved Civic Center to the U.S. Cellular building. That’s not what it is, nor what it embodies in any way, and the monetary exchange should have nothing to do with this decision. Do what is right: Preserve the dignity of Asheville, and yourselves. Don’t sell out. — Alana Johnson, Asheville
Let’s get some money for the name of our Civic Center — put it out to the best bid. What did Mayor Bellamy receive under the table for this? How can she make a decision without involving the citizens and Council? — Nan Davis, Asheville
It is for us to decide, no one else. Period. — Mary Fishman, Asheville
How does U.S. Cellular Greenway Sound? There is a great opportunity for the whole community to sell out. I hate company names on public places but in this case it would be a better alternative than another apartment complex and a greenway that goes nowhere. T.D. Bank bought back the Momentum debacle property (old leaf dump in Montford) for $1.2 million a month ago. That seems the going rate to sell out. I could live with (insert any company name here) greenway over an uncompleted greenway. — Casey Carmichael, Asheville
US cellular center — is that for real? Making a “civic center” (by definition community oriented) an advertisement for a corporation? Yes, I know, it will all come to “rational decisions” about money. It always seems in our system that there is no alternative but selling out. The acoustics are bad; we need repairs; let’s have someone else do it. I think that a big fundraising campaign to keep Asheville independent would work wonders and create a wave of support from artists and citizens. Just on the side of art, too, the name “U.S. Cellular” is ugly. It might define some stem-cell research but certainly not an artistic- and community-oriented enterprise.
Just like newspapers and media that sell out to advertising, what would we exchange for the name? It never comes free. When you have such a big donor, with the name in big letters, for sure, you are not going to want to antagonize, displease or ruffle its feathers in anyway. Gone is independence of thinking and spirit. I am stunned that this is even considered as an option. Please, please, let’s think out of the box. Go with the spirit of Asheville, the Occupy Wall Street spirit, instead of caving in to old dictates of “either/or.” Let’s dream bigger, mobilize and get a citizens’ action plan — Liliane Papin, Asheville
— All images provided by U.S. Cellular