Asheville City Council voted unanimously Oct. 28 to sell the naming rights of an outdoor public space in the heart of downtown to the North Carolina State Employee’s Credit Union Foundation.
In exchange for signage designating the corner of Biltmore and Patton avenues as “SECU Plaza,” the financial institution will give the adjacent Asheville Art Museum $1.5 million.
In a letter to Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer requesting approval, the director of the museum, Pamela Myers, said the funding would be “critical” to completing planned renovations at the site. The city approved a controversial new leasing arrangement for the museum in July that allows it to sell naming rights only with Council’s approval.
However, the museum’s deal with the credit union had been in the works since 2013 without Council’s involvement. And although Council approved the final measure, several members said they were troubled that the museum entered into a contract naming the city-owned property before seeking approval from the city.
“This is distressing to us,” said Vice Mayor Marc Hunt. “It’s not an acceptable way to move forward in the future.” But despite concerns about the process, Hunt said dismissing the deal and starting over from scratch would be “a very tortured process.”
“SECU doesn’t throw this money around very readily,” he added. “We owe gratitude to SECU.”
Kim McGuire, a member of the museum’s board, said that with the influx of credit union cash, the institution has raised $17 million toward its $25 million capital campaign. She called the credit union’s charitable giving “a wonderful program.” Mission Hospital recently named one of its treatment facilities the SECU Cancer Center in exchange for funding from the organization.
In 2011, Council member Cecil Bothwell cast the sole vote against selling the naming rights of the Asheville Civic Center to U.S. Cellular for $1.3 million. But he changed his tune on the SECU deal, saying, “I think we’ve got to roll with where can get money so we can do projects in the city.” He noted that an artist rendering of the SECU Plaza sign looked “quite tasteful.” And he joked that the art museum’s management should’ve handled the negotiations with U.S. Cellular because they “got way more money for a plaza” than the city got for the entire arena.
On a more serious note, he said it was “weird” that the art museum “backed us into this kind of situation” by agreeing to the deal before seeking Council approval.
Most attendees who spoke during a public hearing urged Council not to sign off on the deal.
“You will violate the public’s trust by giving away the public’s assets,” said Leslie Anderson, who formerly served as Asheville’s downtown development director.
Former Asheville Mayor Ken Michalove, who has been a frequent critic of the museum’s management in recent years, called the deal a “boondoggle.”
Any final signage marking SECU Plaza will still have to be approved by the city manager. The name will last as long as the city’s lease with the art museum, which currently stands at 30 years.
Asheville Police Department review
In other business, City Manager Gary Jackson told Council that he wants a detailed review of the Asheville Police Department operations, which have recently been embroiled in controversies.
A group of 44 police officers — about a quarter of the department’s work force — signed a petition earlier this month declaring that they don’t have confidence in the department’s leadership. A handful of meeting attendees wore shirts marked with the number “44” as a symbol of solidarity with the group. The department has also had problems with uncertified radar guns, a labor dispute and allegations of forced overtime.
Jackson didn’t address any of those issues specifically. Instead, he said he will hire an independent consultant to investigate the department. He’s also commissioning Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette to help implement an “organizational redevelopment” at the department.
Earlier this year Council approved a new strategic operating plan for the department, and Jackson said implementing it is a top priority. Council did not vote on any police department issues Oct. 28, but all members expressed support for Jackson’s plans except for Chris Pelly, who declined comment.
In addition, Council:
• Heard an update from Duke Energy District Manager Jason Walls, who told city officials that the company has no plans to close its Arden power plant. Despite increasing calls from local environmentalists to shut down the coal-burning facility, Walls said demand for electricity has doubled in the region since 1975 and closing the plant would be “irresponsible.”
• Appointed Jeremy Goldstein, Laura Hudson and Kristy Carter to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Full action agenda:
The morning after each Council meeting, City Clerk Maggie Burleson posts the “action agenda,” which notes each action take by City Council:
The action agenda is intended to provide the reader with an overview of the council meeting and any decisions that were made. It does not provide action on ceremonial or non-substantive matters.
THIS ACTION AGENDA IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. Authority to carry out actions related to any council decision should be obtained through normal departmental procedure.
Please call the City Clerk’s office at 259-5601 if you have any questions.
Present: Mayor Esther E. Manheimer, Presiding; Vice-Mayor Marc W. Hunt; Councilman Cecil Bothwell; Councilman Jan B. Davis; Councilman Christopher A. Pelly; Councilman Gordon D. Smith; Councilwoman Gwen C. Wisler; City Manager Gary Jackson; City Attorney Robin T. Currin; and City Clerk Magdalen Burleson
ITEM AND SUMMARY
Ordinance enacting and/or changing the speed limits as follows: 20 mph speed limit on Oakwood Street from Haywood Road to End of City Maintenance; and 25 mph speed limit on Catawba Street from Broadway Street to Cumberland Avenue, Cisco Road from Old Haw Creek Road to End of City Maintenance, Red Oak Road from Lakeshore Drive to Ellenwood Drive, and Waynesville Avenue from Craven Street to Westwood Place.
Resolution setting a public hearing on December 9, 2014, to close a portion of Westover Alley.
Resolution amending the 2014 City Council meeting schedule to cancel the November 25, 2014, City Council formal meeting.
Resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into an agreement with the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program for highway safety grant funds.
Budget amendment, in the amount of $20,000, from the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program, to provide a regional law enforcement liaison and fund equipment and training.
Resolution authorizing the City Clerk to advertise for upset bids for the sale of City-owned property at 30 Rock Hill Place.
Main Water Transmission Line Project Update
Domestic Violence Comprehensive Plan
Duke Energy Progress Update on Asheville Plant and Future Plans for the Plant
City Manager Report on the Police Department Strategic Operating Plan
Public hearing to consider permanently closing an unnamed alley off Broad Street. – Request to continue to January 13, 2015.
Public hearing to consider permanently closing a portion of Bradley Street. – This public hearing has been withdrawn from consideration.
Resolution approving the naming rights agreement between the Asheville Art Museum and the North Carolina State Employee’s Credit Union foundation for the naming of a
Adopted Unanimously Adopted Unanimously
Adopted Unanimously Adopted Unanimously Adopted Unanimously
Adopted Unanimously Heard Report
Heard Report Continued to 1-13-15 No Action-Withdrawn
portion of Pack Place Center plaza.
Resolution appointing members to the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Resolution appointing a member to the Recreation Board.
Reappted Jeremy Goldstein & Kristy Carter; Appted
Appted Forrest Merithew