The search for a consultant to help develop Asheville’s Downtown Master Plan has attracted what one local architect called “a veritable who’s who” in planning.
By the Nov. 8 deadline, 33 mostly high-profile firms from across the United States and even Canada had responded to the city’s request for qualifications. A project of the Office of Economic Development, it’s being developed with input from the Downtown Commission and other stakeholders. The goal is to create an urban-design and economic-development guide that will keep Asheville on “its path toward being the premier small city in the nation for urban livability.”
“I think it presents an incredible opportunity for this community,” says Joe Minicozzi of the Asheville-based Public Interest Projects. The respondents, he notes, include “some of the most talented firms in the [business] right now”—both established leaders in the field and new firms on the way up. “It’s pretty exciting.”
The firms run the gamut from the locally based Design Workshop to Crandall Arambula of Portland, Ore., to The Planning Partnership of Toronto.
“I think Asheville is one of the finest cities in the country,” declares urban-design specialist Allison Platt (Allison Platt & Associates, Baltimore, Md.). “I’ve been working in North Carolina for about 15 years in the eastern part of the state,” she notes, adding that she just bought a house in Goldsboro and will soon be North Carolina-bound. “The whole state is nice, and it’s growing.”
Timothy Keane of the Charleston, S.C.-based Keane and Co. says this may be “the city in the South [that], over the last century-and-a-half, has had the best designers in the country working [there].” And if that weren’t enough, he adds, “We love Asheville so much.”
“When you think of all the cities in the country,” says urban planner Kathryn Madden, a principal with Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., “Asheville has a great reputation for arts and culture. The city has a beautiful setting—it’s just unbelievable. It’s just this vibrant little center sitting in the mountains, [with] beautiful architecture and then the views.” What’s more, she notes, the vision statement included in the request for qualifications shows that the city did its homework.
Minicozzi and other observers also complimented the language of the RFQ, which emphasizes “innovative and artisanlike attention to our city” rather than “cookie-cutter” solutions. Aiming straight at the hearts of professional planners, he notes, the document states, “We expect this project to be a great opportunity for you, for all the reasons you are passionate about your work.”
By Nov. 30, the Downtown Master Plan Advisory Committee (made up of city staff and Downtown Commission members) will produce a shortlist, with a final selection to follow by year’s end.
The ultimate goal is to create a guide that will foster sustainable economic growth utilizing green-design standards. The process will review public infrastructure needs, linkages, downtown gateways and corridors, sustainable transportation, and policy recommendations for promoting a “healthy mix of land uses.”
A process for involving the community is slated for February 2008, with a draft plan to follow by April.
“It’s a great opportunity for those who do the work, but also a great opportunity for us to be visionary. It’s an opportunity to really kind of do something wonderful,” says Minicozzi.