Construction of Pack Square Park in the heart of downtown Asheville continues to move forward on several fronts, though negotiations concerning the planned $2.46 million pavilion, a key component of the new park, have delayed the start of that work.
The Pack Square Conservancy and contractor Beverly-Grant have not yet signed a contract to build the pavilion, a 4,200-square-foot structure in the center of the park that will feature a visitors center. Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman said the conservancy’s board is requiring Beverly-Grant to put subcontractor work out for bid, and that hasn’t happened yet.
Created in 2000 by an agreement with the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, the conservancy is charged with overseeing construction of the 6.5-acre, $20 million park, which has been plagued by delays and rising costs. The pavilion construction is slated to take 10 months, and the conservancy had hoped to have it started before now.
The continuing disruption in the heart of downtown has worried some retail store and restaurant owners who say their business is down because of it.
Meanwhile, the public is invited to attend a “Hard Hat Party” on Friday, Nov. 14, hosted by Windows on the Park on Pack Square. Members of both the construction team and the conservancy board will be on hand to deliver updates about the ongoing work.
Earlier this year, ValleyCrest Landscape Development was awarded a $7.5 million contract for one of the final major phases of the remodel, which includes a performance stage, water features and landscaping. This work is scheduled to be completed by next September.
In other park news:
• On Nov. 5, the conservancy’s board voted to offer Philip Craft the job of executive director, but he apparently doesn’t want it, according to Geiselman. Craft, who is director of marketing and communications for New York’s City Parks Foundation, indicated that he’s no longer interested in the job, said Geiselman, and the conservancy board is “considering our alternatives at this point.”
Geiselman, who was hired as the conservancy’s first staff member in 2002, has served as executive director since 2007. But she plans to move into more of a consulting role as the group begins to shift its focus from construction of the park to programming the public space. She said the board hopes to have a new executive director in place by year’s end.
• Also at its Nov. 5 meeting, board member Pam Myers, who is executive director of the Asheville Art Museum in the adjacent Pack Place, expressed concern about bus parking in the area. The buses drop off visiting schoolchildren, and the recent reconfiguration of traffic signals and crosswalks has created “the potential for someone to get hurt,” said Geiselman, noting that the conservancy has contacted the city and that an alternate drop-off and pickup area will be designated on Biltmore Avenue.
• An audit of the Pack Square Conservancy by Buncombe County Internal Auditor Tim Flora found the nonprofit’s books to be accurate and adequate financial controls to be in place concerning cash disbursements. The audit also found that the group was operating on a budget that had not been approved by the commissioners, and it recommended regular quarterly updates for them.
As of June 30, the conservancy had spent $6.7 million all told, according to the October audit. The group had $500,000 cash on hand, $3.8 million in available federal grant funds, and $4.3 million in net pledges receivable, including a $1.15 million commitment from the county, according to the audit. The conservancy needs to raise an additional $4.7 million to meet its capital budget.
Geiselman said the group has contacted the county about getting its current operating budget approved and establishing a regular update process but has yet to hear back from the commissioners.