Despite a 30-minute evacuation due to smoke from caterers, the annual meeting of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority on Sept. 19 was deemed a huge success by BCTDA President and CEO of Explore Asheville Vic Isley. More than 250 business owners, entrepreneurs and community leaders gathered at the Wortham Center for Performing Arts.
The event featured Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The New Urban Crisis. He also is co-founder of CityLab and the Creative Class Group, which works with companies and governments worldwide.
During his speech, Florida noted the unique opportunity that Asheville faces as the world shifts to a new economy.
“Since the pandemic, the world has developed an economy based not on our physical labor and materials, but on our human talent, our human gifts, our knowledge, our mental capacities, our creativity, and I think you exemplify that here in Asheville,” said Florida.
Unlike other cities, Asheville has the ideal combination of natural features such as mountains, hiking trails and views and urban amenities like restaurants, nightlife and breweries, he noted.
“Since COVID, it has become clear that creative and talented people want to go places that have a mix of natural and urban amenities,” Florida said. “Tourism is your front door in many different ways. How many people come here and decide to stay? How many people come here and like it and decide to move their business?”
But while Asheville can continue to grow, Florida said, it faces a few challenges, including the perception of safety downtown and urban vagrancy.
“I think the pandemic has created a kind of urban disorder, whether through mental illness, vagrancy or homelessness,” Florida said. “While it is very mild here compared to metropolises such as New York City, you have to address it early, or it just metastasizes. Make sure with the community that you keep your downtown safe and clean.”
Another major concern that Asheville needs to address is housing affordability, Florida said. Other cities similar to Asheville, such as his client Bentonville, Ark., did not address housing affordability and now struggle to grow and develop. “[Bentonville leaders] laughed when I told them a few years ago that they would face a housing crisis, and now they are calling me back asking me to do a housing affordability study next month,” Florida said.
“If you become a destination that attracts talent, your housing prices are going to go up, and you need to prepare for the coming crisis of housing affordability,” Florida said. “I heard you already find yourself with a high cost of living for the region. You’ve already got to think long and hard about affordable housing for young people.”
Bacoate honored for community service
The TDA also recognized U.S. Army veteran and community activist Matthew Bacoate Jr. with the William A.V. Cecil Leadership Award for his dedication to Asheville. The award, created in 1989 as a tribute to William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, honors the leadership, creativity and dedication of people who support Asheville’s tourism sector.
Bacoate was a driving force behind Asheville’s integration during the Civil Rights Movement. For over six decades, he has organized the Skyview Golf Tournament at the Asheville Municipal Golf Course, the longest-running Black-owned and operated professional tournament in the country.
Known for striking up conversations with anyone he ran into, Bacoate often gives out silver dollars to people who smile and outwardly show kindness and respect. As a nod to this special gesture, each attendee of the meeting was given a silver dollar in his honor as they exited the theater.