Possibilities, limited

A cash-strapped Center of Unlimited Possibilities, which sought to provide a hub for much of Asheville’s alternative culture under one roof, closed its doors on April 30.

“We were not able to keep up with the rent,” says Anna Walker, CUP’s volunteer manager and one of its co-founders. “For the amount of space we had, we had a very good lease, but it was just more than we could handle financially at this point.”

Open since last September, the center was located in a sprawling, 30,000-square-foot space in the Westgate shopping center and included such amenities as a meditation room, dance floor, sofa lounge, lending library and auditorium, along with some 30 vendors. 

The CUP owed approximately $50,000 in back rent to Westgate, according to Dave Tomsky, director of public relations at WC&T, a local advertising agency that represents the FIRC group, the Miami-based company that owns Westgate. “They were not evicted, but the eviction process had already started based on their nonpayment of rental for the past five months or so.”

During its run, the CUP hosted music festivals, conferences of activists, an Asheville Pridefest, drum circles and the Chamber of Consciousness, a local network of alternative businesses, among events and groups.

“There was a lot of fellowship here,” says co-founder Bill Najger says. People wanted to come “and just be there,” adds co-founder Mary Silva.

However, it took more time than anticipated to prepare the space—and CUP faced hurdles in setting up nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service.

“We had a business plan—but it was based around nothing going wrong,” Silva says.

“We first came together setting up for a non-profit, but we were one of the first community centers to have a conscious-business side,” says Najger. “That was new to them [the IRS].”

Given that problem, “we couldn’t get grant money as soon as we’d hoped,” Silva says. In retrospect, the founders agree, they should have hired a core of paid staff, set up their finances before moving in and proceeded more carefully. “So much had come to us—almost magically, as we were stepping into this—it didn’t seem right to stop,” Walker remembers.

Westgate’s owners reduced the rent in December and January, Tomsky says, but “the fact is that they simply got too far behind.” If the CUP hadn’t moved out, he adds, eviction proceedings would have continued.

Najger said that CUP had paid some $48,000 in rent so far, and the amount Tomsky quotes also includes payments that would have been due on their longterm lease.

Walker says the founders regretted having to close on relatively short notice. “Because of the way the rent was requested, it came suddenly for all those business owners. We’d really like to apologize for that hurt—yet I know they’ve learned a lot too.”

FIRC plans to demolish the space as it reworks the center. The CUP’s area is expected to be turned into condominiums, retail space and parking.

The Chamber of Consciousness is now based in local store Mystic Journeys, they said—and the CUP will continue, at least in some form. The organization is looking at several possibilities, including an eco-village, renting Pritchard Park or a series of local gatherings. “We’re now looking at the center of unlimited possibilities being Asheville,” Najger says.

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