Waiting for Pack Square Park

With the start of the summer tourist season almost here, downtown-Asheville business owners met with representatives of the Pack Square Conservancy last week to hear an update about the next phase of construction on the long-awaited Pack Square Park. About 50 people gathered at Windows on the Park on Pack Square to press for specifics about a construction timeline and ask for marketing help to spread the word that businesses will remain open, despite all the construction.

So many questions…: Mark Durbin, center, the owner’s representative for the Pack Square Conservancy, answered questions last week from downtown business owners who are concerned about the impact of summer construction. Photo By Jason Sandford

“We’re talking about some people who may not make it through the summer,” said Michel Baudouin, president of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, about owners who worry that the construction may hobble their business.

Conservancy Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman said the board was still waiting for Valley Crest Landscape Design to finalize a $7.5 million contract for construction that will cover two big chunks in the heart of Asheville. Work on Pack Square, which will include the installation of a new water fountain, benches and landscaping, will start first and take 210 days, according to Mark Durbin, the owner’s representative for the conservancy. Work on the lawn in front of City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse will include more water features and landscaping.

Construction crews will erect 6-foot-tall chain-link fencing around various areas as construction proceeds, the conservancy members said. The work will require the closure of Spruce and Market streets and north Pack Square for curbing and paving, Durbin said, but an exact timeline won’t be set until the contract is finalized. Some parking spaces in the area will be lost as construction proceeds, he added.

A contract for the construction of a pavilion in the center area of the sprawling park has not yet been negotiated, Geiselman said. That phase will last about 10 months once it’s begun, she estimated.

Several restaurant owners wanted to know what the conservancy would do to help them get through another summer without the downtown park complete. Vincenzo’s Ristorante owner Dwight Butner said he supports the project, but added: “One of the things I was relying on was that you would execute this in a timely manner. Have you thought about helping us out in some way?”

Butner and other restaurant owners suggested working with the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to create a marketing plan for the area, including signs to direct traffic and pedestrians around the construction.

Other concerns included the construction’s impact on the 30th anniversary Bele Chere festival this summer—including a lack of space for the Taste of Asheville food booths—and the future location of the Energy Loop sculpture, which was uprooted when construction started. Conservancy members didn’t address the Bele Chere issue, and they said the location of the Energy Loop is “still an open question.”

In outlining the conservancy’s finances, Geiselman said the group was working on a $20.5 million budget and had raised more than $16 million, though a portion of that remains in uncollected pledges. She said the conservancy has spent about $6 million.

Geiselman stressed that the conservancy will do what it can to help local businesses get through the construction period.

“We’re very, very sensitive to the fact that this is going to impact businesses on the square,” she said. “Believe me, we want to finish this project.”

Visit www.packsquarepark.org for updates.

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