Downtown group offers volunteer help to complete park

Asheville Downtown Association members have offered to pitch in as volunteers to speed up the completion of the new Pack Square Park, ADA President Byron Greiner told the board of the Pack Square Conservancy on Feb. 4.

The park in winter: Construction is proceeding on the new Pack Square Park, but the Asheville Downtown Association says its members stand ready to pitch in as volunteers to speed things up. Photo by Jason Sandford

“It’s something we wanted to bring forward to speed things along,” said Greiner. “We want to partner with you because it means so much to us.”

The nonprofit conservancy is overseeing a $20 million remodel of the park, which covers 6.5 acres of land in the heart of downtown, extending from the steps of City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse to Pack Square. Construction began in 2005, but the project has been plagued with delays, and some downtown business owners have complained that the ongoing disruption has hurt their bottom line.

Greiner said members of groups such as the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association and the Mountain Voices Alliance stand ready to help with everything from landscaping to ceremonial events.

The conservancy thanked Greiner for the offer but said that contractual obligations, as well as liability concerns, might preclude tapping volunteers until after the park is finished. The conservancy plans to open it in sections, starting with the Pack Square section in April. The area closest to the government buildings is slated for a September opening, followed by the park’s midsection about a month later.

In other action, the conservancy board approved hiring a new executive director, confirming a vote it had apparently taken in closed session last month.

On Jan. 28, the board announced the hiring of Gary Giniat to replace outgoing Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman. Giniat, formerly vice president of marketing and public relations for the Chicago Children’s Museum, starts his new job Feb. 16 and will earn $60,000 a year. The conservancy has been searching for a new executive director since last September.

The conservancy’s previous public meeting, on Jan. 6, had included a closed session to discuss a personnel matter. But the board adjourned without taking any action in open session, and after the Jan. 28 announcement about hiring Giniat, Mountain Xpress questioned whether the nonprofit had violated North Carolina’s open-meetings law.

The law allows boards and commissions of public bodies to meet in closed session for several specific reasons, such as discussing personnel issues. But other actions, such as voting on an appointment, must be conducted in the open, according to Amanda Martin, the N.C. Press Association’s general counsel. “Final action making an appointment or discharge or removal by a public body having final authority for the appointment or discharge or removal shall be taken in an open meeting,” Martin wrote in a Feb. 2 e-mail, quoting the state law.

It’s unclear whether the conservancy, a private nonprofit group that receives both public and private funding, falls under the state law’s definition of a public body. But after a controversy about five years ago involving a reporter from the Asheville Citizen-Times, the conservancy decided it would abide by the law’s requirements.

In a Feb. 2 phone interview, Giniat said he’s looking forward to using his communication and marketing skills to promote the park. “I love downtown Asheville,” said Giniat, adding that he’s visited the area often over the last 20 years and has friends here. “I think the park can really be a showcase for the city.”

At the same meeting, the conservancy named board member Guy Clerici to take over as chair, replacing Carol King.

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