City names economic development chief as Civic Center director

The Asheville Civic Center is getting more than just a new roof: After a five-month search, the city has appointed Economic Development Director Sam Powers as the venue's director.

The Civic Center has been operating under an interim director since the departure of Sherman Bass back in June. Bass had served for about a year-and-a-half before accepting a position in his hometown of Amarillo, Texas. David Pisha had overseen the facility for the previous 10 years.

Powers' appointment marks a new approach to leadership at the venue, one that will recognize its economic impact on the city, he says. "If you think of the Civic Center and our local and regional economic-development plan, there's a really natural connectivity." But financial belt-tightening also played a part in the decision. "With the current economic climate we are in, it made sense to look within instead of bringing someone from outside the organization," Powers explains.

While the preference would have been to have two separate directors, the joint appointment will save the city about $100,000 a year, says City Manager Gary Jackson. And though Powers will also continue running the Office of Economic Development, some of that workload will be shared, Jackson reports. In addition, new economic-incentive structures — such as the "business improvement district" envisioned in the Downtown Master Plan — could eventually assume responsibilities now covered by Powers' office.

Mike Burke, who chairs the Civic Center Commission, says his group is looking forward to coordinating its strategies with Powers. "The city's choice of a knowledgeable and respected community-business-oriented individual bodes well for the Civic Center's future," he wrote in an e-mail to Xpress. "The choice of Mr. Powers is a strong endorsement of the capabilities of the center's present professional staff."

For his part, Powers says his involvement with the Civic Center will likely focus on external economic development rather than internal management. That could include discussions with the Tourism Development Authority — with whom City Council is currently at odds over a proposal to allocate a portion of hotel-room-tax revenues for Civic Center improvements — and perhaps coordinating with the nonprofit group pushing for constructing a new performance center in the city. Dan Dover, who has served as interim director since Bass' departure, will continue to handle day-to-day operations at the facility, Powers explains.

"There's a core staff … right now who understands the operations [there]," he notes. "As long as we've got good folks like that who are engaged, that allows me to concentrate perhaps more on external issues that are inherently tied with the Civic Center."

Powers will also give City Council updates on the ongoing Civic Center capital-improvements plan, which aims to repair or replace a laundry list of outdated or neglected equipment in the building.

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