Asheville City Council

“The new economy will be made by the new creative worker.”

— RiverLink Executive Director Karen Cragnolin

With new members on board and 2004 just begun, the Asheville City Council’s Jan. 6 work session came out of the gate with an eye on the future. Fresh from their holiday break, Council members seemed ready to tackle new challenges — an ambition that even the annual audit report (by the CPA firm Crisp Hughes Evans) couldn’t spoil. The report — required by state law to update the city on its current financial status — lasted more than an hour, due mostly to Council members’ requests for clarification and occasional philosophical musings. The long and the short of it: Everything looks to be about where it should be.

And after reviewing the past year, it seemed fitting that Council should be offered a glimpse into the city’s future, including an ambitious vision for the Asheville riverfront.

The road to the future

RiverLink Executive Director Karen Cragnolin launched a major public-relations campaign, unveiling plans she hopes will usher in a new era for the city’s River District. Bearing the unwieldy title of The Wilma Dykeman Riverway and Urban Riverfront Plan, the colorful drawings and bulleted lists outlined a 17-mile strip of mixed-use buildings, entertainment complexes, parks and pedestrian/bike trails that would snake along the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers.

The winding corridor would comprise seven separate districts, stretching from UNCA in the northwest, south through the current warehouse/studio district, then east along the Swannanoa River all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The project, said Cragnolin, would cost an estimated $2 million a mile — but planners project a $214 million increase in the tax base if the city sees the plan through.

Although a new Super Wal-Mart is slated to grace the banks of the Swannanoa by then, Cragnolin said most of that growth would come from small businesses, predicting that the new riverway would attract the so-called “creative class” — educated, talented, visionary entrepreneurs — rather than traditional smokestack industry.

“The new economy will be made by the new creative worker,” Cragnolin proclaimed.

But the $34 million price tag proved to be a stumbling block for some.

Vice Mayor Carl Mumpower had, at best, words of caution for the project.

“We all know what it’s like to have exciting plans and then run into a wall of not having enough money,” noted Mumpower.

Cragnolin told Council that most of the cost of such projects is usually covered by federal and state highway moneys. However, research has revealed that much of the roadway along the proposed corridor is city-owned, making it ineligible for such funding. But this problem, she said, does have a solution: “Maybe you should give [the roads] to the state.”

And despite a smattering of chuckles from Council members, Cragnolin continued to advance the idea, as if testing the waters. “I think you should think about it,” she urged. (In a later interview with Xpress, Cragnolin emphasized that, at this point, no option should be discounted, saying, “I think we need to look under every rock.”)

Cragnolin said her visit to Council marked the first stop on a whirlwind tour of informational meetings and public-comment sessions aimed at promoting the plan, drafted in concert with the city over the past 10 years. She expects to take the same presentation to the Buncombe County commissioners — and anybody else who’s willing to listen.

“Any group of five people on a street corner are probably going to hear this,” Cragnolin told Council.

That saturation tactic is part of a public-input process aimed at both building support for the project and helping determine the fine points of the plan, which now consists mainly of the kind of pretty watercolors and presentation graphics Cragnolin brought to the work session.

Asked by Council member Brownie Newman how detailed the vision is at present, Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford said it is “just beyond a concept.”

Low-power empowerment

Last month, radio station WRES-LPFM began broadcasting as the voice of Asheville’s Empowerment Resource Center. The station, says the nonprofit group, helps it reach out to the minority and low-income communities in Asheville and surrounding counties. To expand its area of coverage, however, needs better equipment.

To that end, Council member Holly Jones asked the city to donate $4,500 to help the nonprofit buy a new remote unit and console. The group has already gotten contributions from other local nonprofits and from Buncombe County.

Jones’ request was placed on the agenda for Council’s Jan.13 formal session. But comments by Mumpower suggested that the item may meet with some opposition.

“I have a problem putting taxpayer money into an outside project,” said the vice mayor, proposing that the matter be handed off to the city’s Outside Agency Committee for review.

Jones and Council member Terry Bellamy reminded Mumpower that the committee is severely understaffed due to delays in making appointments. At present, in fact, Bellamy is the committee’s only member.

“If there was ever a time to make an exception, this is the time,” declared Jones.

The new radio station, found at 100.7 on the FM dial, broadcasts a mix of music and community outreach, including job listings, legal advice, health issues and crisis information.

A growing city

Asheville has targeted seven new areas for annexation, and Shuford got the ball rolling with a presentation to Council.

The areas in question are: the Heritage Business Park (near the New Leicester Highway), Honey Drive (in East Chunns Cove), and sections of Enka Park, Sand Hill/Oakview, Ashewood (off School Road), Heathbrook and Sweeten Creek.

According to the schedule outlined by Shuford, the annexation process is expected to take just under six months, with public-information sessions and hearings to be held in March.

Calling all city residents

Asheville has vacancies on the following boards and commissions: the Board of Adjustment, the Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Council, the Downtown Commission, the Firemen’s Relief Fund, the Metropolitan Sewerage District board, the Greenway Commission, the Public Art Board, the Transit Commission and the Tree Commission. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 16. For more information, call the city clerk’s office at 259-5601.

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