The Grove Arcade, boarded up and abandoned, before it was renovated in the 1990s.
About 200 people attended “The Asheville Miracle: The Revitalization of Downtown,” a presentation sponsored by the Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors (DARN) on May 25 at Diana Wortham Theatre.
Xpress reporter Michael Muller covered the meeting as it took place via Twitter, starting at 6:45 p.m. and ending at 9:05 p.m.
“Pack Square is the living room of our community,” says Leslie Anderson in her opening remarks. Anderson is talking about history of Bele Chere, the downtown design review process.
The Southwest corner of Patton & Biltmore, where the Noodle Shop and the Sisters McMullen now do business.
Anderson: “We now have the largest percentage of income-producing buildings of any county in the state.”
Anderson is talking about the hundreds of people involved in the public/private partnership whose efforts revitalized downtown.
Karen Tessier is now going through turn of the (20th) century photos of Asheville: trolleys, francy-shmancy. And now, in contrast, showing pictures of downtown Asheville all boarded up, pigeons and proverbial rats everywhere. Tessier says she could walk downtown all afternoon and “not see another person.”
Here’s the building where Malaprop’s is now located.
Tessier is showing a photo of Eagle Street. The YMI Center looks like a decrepid, burned-out shell. She’s showing shocking pictures of Wall Street, Haywood Street. No people in pictures. Tessier is talking about kids who are now in their 30s and 40s, who grew up only learning about downtown Asheville at “Discovery Day,” because otherwise they’d never come downtown.
Looking down at Wall Street, the current site of Early Girl restaurant.
Pat Whalen, executive director of Public Interest Projects (PIP), is saying: “There were more pigeons than people,” and that most buildings were covered in aluminum siding. “That will never work here, don’t even try,” was the unofficial motto. Whalen notes that there were five restauarnts downtown in ‘80s, compared to to over 60 today.
He says Mark Rosenstein, owner of the Market Place Restaurant, was a leader in Asheville’s restaurant scene.
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the construction of Pack Place and redesign of Wall Street were completed.
John Lantzius and his sister Dawn renovated buildings up and down Lexington, and fought against a plan to turn a multi-block section of downtown in a mall, Whalen says.
And yet the city & county had the foresight to keep all of downtown’s public buildings, Whalen says.
Site of the condos next to the Woolworth building on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville.
Julian Price was shy, and so many people didn’t know that he gave lots of money to nonprofits to fund revitaliztion. Price invested millions of his own money, and literally gave away his money to make Asheville a livable city. He wanted to get residents to move downtown; he believed the key to doing this was revitalizing the city. Downtown residents were “The real secret weapon,” Price said.
Patton & Coxe, now the site of Jack of the Wood.
Price guaranteed loans for businesses like the Laughing Seed, the French Broad Food Coop and the Carolina Apartments because banks then wouldn’t lend money to downtown businesses.
Julian Price literally saved downtown. The Vanderbilt Apartments structure on Haywood was beginning to fall down; and it was the ugliest building downtown. Price saved it and refurbished it.
The site of City Bakery Building, circa 1972.
Early on in the process, Chris and Margaret Kobler, John Cram started several businesses on Biltmore Avenue.
The old Penneys building was renovated into condos by Price; another downtown pioneer, Roger McGuire, redeveloped 60 Market Street.
Whalen is thanking all the entrepreneurs downtown for all the time and money they have invested.
The site where the Earth Guild is located now on Haywood Street.
Julian Price converted what was being used as an old auto-parts warehouse into what’s now the Orange Peel.
The result: Today, Asheville is on a buttload of “Best of Lists” and generating tremendous tax revenues. One acre of high-rise, mixed use buildings generates more revenue than the entire Asheville Mall, Whalen says.
Bob Carr, owner of Tops For Shoes is now speaking. Tops has been in business in downtown Asheville for 50 years. Carr says he knew revitalization would happen, although he thought it would take 20 years. He says Asheville’s worst year was 1976. Carr’s heroes are McGuire and Price. Carr says Julian Price “saw the potential” of Asheville.
The 100 block of Broadway, just north of the BB&T Building: There’s a Thai restaurant & a copy shop there now.
Carr asks the audience to stand, and then asks those who have lived in Ashevile more than 20 years to sit down; half the audience sits.
Carr says he considered Georgetown (DC) as a model for Asheville; it worked.
Carr chaired Bele Chere in 1982. The festival had only a $40k budget and he remembers it rained all weekend that year.
Car is talking about the history of his business. He got a loan in 1980 to expand the business, and bought the College Street building.
Carr says he chose to stay downtown, that he “loves this city.” He loves the new Pack Square Park and he invites people to come down on Friday for its grand opening.
New signs by the TDA are being commended and applauded by audience members.
Carr says, “We want to keep downtown full of businesses that are locally owned,” and gets sustained applause.
Contact Michael Muller at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @michaelfmuller