The Beat: Here comes Santa Claus

The holiday season gets an early start this year, with the Asheville Holiday Parade kicking things off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20. The 2010 theme is "Mountain Magic!" and Parade Director Sandie Rhodes of the Asheville Downtown Association promises that it will be sure to "conjure up different things for different people, but all very happy things."

"There's the magic of Christmas and the holidays, so [the theme] seemed to be pretty good," she adds, noting that for the first time, a number of magicians and jugglers will be stationed throughout the parade route to entertain the crowd.

Now in it's 64th year, the spectacle is one of downtown's biggest family attractions and a boon to local businesses.

"There's so much family history and memories people have about the parade," Rhodes explains. "It's the one event outside of Shindig on the Green that really brings people from all over Western North Carolina to downtown Asheville."

This year's "Grand Marshals" will be local bluegrass sensations, Steep Canyon Rangers, who have spent the year playing huge festivals like Bonnaroo and Merlefest with guest banjoist/comedian (and newly relocated Brevard resident), Steve Martin.

"They’re very hot right now," says Rhodes. "I think the Steep Canyon Rangers epitomize good values and family and great music. They won't just be sitting on a float waving either. They said, ‘We don't want to just sit there and wave; we want to perform.’"

The festivities will also feature about 100 local entries, reports Rhodes.

"We have a real home-grownness to this year's parade. People are really getting creative and decorating themselves. It's less about the big dollars coming in to the parade and more about people really getting in to the spirit," she says, assuring attendees, however, that at least one very special guest from the North Pole will be making an appearance.

"The real Santa" will be in town, she reveals.

The Biz: Cars, condos and data centers

In another big, if slightly less magical showcase, Buncombe County commissioners Holly Jones and Carol Peterson made an appearance last week at the new AutoGas fueling facility on Sweeten Creek Road. They announced that Mountain Mobility converted 10 county vehicles to run on propane. The alternative-fuel project is the first of its kind for a para-transit service in North Carolina and was funded by federal stimulus dollars.

The centerpiece of Buncombe's public transportation system, Mountain Mobility operates 37 vans and five small busses, providing about 500 passenger trips to county residents on a typical weekday.

Meanwhile, in the northern part of the county, the Reynolds Village development in Woodfin held a groundbreaking ceremony for a $30 million project that will include 201 luxury apartments and nearly 65,000 square feet of retail space. The plans are the latest addition to the ongoing Reynolds Village development, which also call for a business park, a town square, green space and plazas that will make up the heart of a planned downtown Woodfin corridor.

And in another big business development for WNC, the Asheville Citizen-Times and other outlets reported last week that "Facebook Picks Rutherford County for Site of $459M Data Center." According to the article, construction of the data center will take about 18 months and create up to 250 jobs. After completion, it's expected to require about 35 to 45 full-time employees to operate.

“This is a game-changer,” Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said at the site. “It's a message that Rutherford County and North Carolina are open for business in the 21st century.”

Ben Teague, senior vice president at the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County, also said the project could have benefits closer to home. “Let's say you're in Brazil and they may have no idea where Buncombe County is or even Western North Carolina,” he explained. “You legitimize your position when you say the county next to us has Facebook.”

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or


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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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