Asheville City Council: Box-office bust

  • Asheville City Council June 22, 2010 meeting
  • $136 million budget approved
  • Council ponders reopening pedestrian bridge
  • URTV suddenly solvent

At their July 22 meeting, Asheville City Council members pulled the plug on the Asheville Film Festival not with a bang but a whimper, jettisoning the event on a 6-0 vote.

Budget time: Mayor Terry Bellamy, left, said that Asheville is caught between the demand for more services and a lack of new revenues. photos by Halima Flynt

"There's a sadness right now; I thought it was a great festival and had the potential to be an even greater one," said Council member Jan Davis. "My hope is that whatever we do, it has a heritage here, and privatization can be a very successful model."

Whereas most festivals are run by nonprofits or private companies, Asheville's was an in-house affair shepherded by the city's Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department. But after overseeing it since 2003, city staff now wanted it gone, citing its unbroken history of losing money ($23,968 last year) and the city's current budget crunch.

"This comes with some regret: It has been a love of the staff to do this," City Manager Gary Jackson told Council. "But this comes with a recognition that we're here to provide core services [such as] public safety, police, fire. This is simply something that government can't do as well as the private sector."

Council members seemed to agree, though not without some sorrow. And they left it to staff to figure out how to dispose of the official trademark and web address (though that decision will still need Council approval).

Local filmmaker Tom Anton, who's pulling together his own event for September 2011, had expressed interest in taking over the city's festival, but he now says he's "not interested in obtaining the logo or the website or any funding from the city. We've already had tremendous response from the community" for the Asheville International Film Festival.

However, there may be another suitor: Andre Gower of CinemaSouth. "The alternative is to find someone who can execute a successful event and show just what Asheville has to offer," he told Council. "I've got 30 years' experience in the entertainment industry." (Reporter David Forbes is an organizer for yet another such event, the Ricochet Film Festival, scheduled for this September.)

"It's a little disappointing that we put all this money in and built this brand, and now there's kind of an end run around it," Council member Esther Manheimer observed. "It's a learning moment."

Budget finalized

After months of compromise, wrangling and debate, City Council unanimously approved a $136 million budget for fiscal year 2010-11. (Council member Bill Russell was absent due to a family emergency.) Originally showing a $5 million deficit, the budget avoids raising taxes or drawing more from reserve funds by cutting training, overtime and temp jobs while raising water fees, among other measures.

In addition, city staff found $143,000 in fees recently paid to the city that can be used to build more sidewalks, which are needed in many neighborhoods.

That, however, still leaves the city facing many financial challenges.

"We are a wonderful place to live, work and play, but demand for city services is growing," noted Mayor Terry Bellamy. "The way to pay for those services is diminishing; it's time we thought about a bond referendum for our community. How are we going to pay for parks or streets or greenways without additional funding? We don't want to raise taxes, but everybody wants increased services, so we're at a crossroads."

Filmed out? Andre Gallagher, of CinemaSouth, expressed an interest in taking over the logo and website of the Asheville Film Festival, which Council voted to scrap.

Ultimately, said Council member Gordon Smith, the choice is stark: lower taxes and lower services or higher taxes and higher services. "Eventually, there's nothing left to cut," he said.

Dangerous crossing

Council also discussed a nonagenda item: reopening a pedestrian bridge across Interstate 240 after Swannanoa resident Anthony Gilmore was struck and killed June 16 while crossing the highway to reach the Hillcrest Apartments public housing.

Smith, who's called for reopening the bridge and clearing an overgrown sidewalk linking it to downtown, said Gilmore's father has gathered 300 signatures from Hillcrest residents supporting the move.

"It is time to revisit this issue: 1994 was a different time, a different police chief and a different attitude toward communities, crime and drugs," noted Smith. "What we're doing right now isn't working; people are running across that street and getting killed."

Council member Cecil Bothwell said he and other Z-Link volunteers planned to clear the sidewalk on June 26.

Davis, however, urged caution. "It's not a good situation, but it's very important to realize it was closed for a reason. … As bad as the traffic situation was, there were also lives lost to the drug trade and trafficking. I wouldn't want to make a hasty decision based on emotion; we need to have that discussion."

At Bellamy's suggestion, Council agreed to send the issue to its Public Safety Committee for consideration, saying there needs to be a "comprehensive conversation" involving city staff, Hillcrest residents and the state Department of Transportation, which would have to sign off on reopening the bridge.

UR what?

Board member Bob Horn briefed Council on the WNC Community Media Center's current services, including public-access television, web radio and video training.

But the big news came later, when Council asked about the Media Center's much-publicized financial woes. "I've heard you're going to close in September or October; I also hear there's a plan to save it," said Smith. "What's the situation?"

"We got behind on our funding from the county, so we let the community know," answered Horn. "We thought we'd be proactive. We weren't having funding issues ourselves; we just needed the money owed to us. … Basically, at this stage, we calculate we can continue on until this time next year."

Buncombe County recently released $48,000 in PEG funds— money paid by cable subscribers specifically to support public channels — but pointedly refused to give the nonprofit any additional money, as many URTV producers had urged. Now, however, Horn was telling a decidedly different story.

Not everyone was buying it. During the public-comment period, local public-access producer Steve Holland called for an investigation, saying the numbers don't add up. "There are too many issues converging before you about the [Media Center]," he said. "Had the board made efforts to understand the funding situation, we wouldn't have the current crisis."

URTV representatives, Holland emphasized, had repeatedly said they needed $200,000 to $300,000 just to keep operating, but they now seemed content with far less. Holland also criticized the previous ousting of dissenting board members.

City staff said they're drawing up a new, multiyear contract with the Media Center. Davis noted that "discrepancies" in the various claims about URTV's funding situation and management need to be examined before a new agreement is signed.

Other business

• Bellamy's motion to ask the DOT to fund east Asheville sidewalk improvements failed 3-3, with Davis, Smith and Vice Mayor Brownie Newman opposed because the item wasn't on the agenda.
• Conditional zoning for the life-safety tower being added to the Buncombe County Courthouse was approved 6-0.
• Council voted 5-1 to renew lease agreements with two mixed-use projects near Biltmore Avenue. Bothwell voted no, saying the deals amount to subsidizing hotel chains in exchange for more parking and that the city needs to start taking steps to reduce automobile use.

David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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35 thoughts on “Asheville City Council: Box-office bust

  1. J

    Wow, Gordon voted against Bellamy’s resolution because it wasn’t on the agenda? Seriously?

    Let’s see…Gordon’s Domestic Partner Benefits wasn’t on the agenda – but that was okay to vote for. Was the fact that the esteemd Councilman Smith made the motion enough to override the idea that we shouldn’t vote for items simply because they weren’t on the agenda?

    Nor was Holly Shriner’s appointment recension on the agenda, but Gordon voted for that too. So, sometimes its okay to vote for items not on the agenda, and sometimes it is. Is Gordon the sole arbiter of that decision? This is almost as comical as when Gordon said he would restore the Housing Trust Fund, and instead left it in a smoldering debt.

    I look forward to seeing what other double standards Gordon can implement for the next three years. I suspect I should brace myself for an attack on “anonymous” commentators from Screwy Hoolie or “Admin Hooligan”, or CJ, or “writ of summons”, or “big ivy”, or one of the other anonymous hooligans.

  2. Politics Watcher

    Whatever happened to Councilman Bothwell’s plan for the City put out a RFP to individuals and groups who wanted to take over the city-run film festival, under the same name/logo, etc? That sounded like a good idea.

  3. I think it’s totally b.s. that the City needs to “protect the brand” of the Asheville Film Festival, that it worked so hard to establish. That is simply laughable.

    It’s not like the film festival was a growing , thriving festival. It was obvious by the chart shown, that it has quickly folding.

    Kudos to those intrepid individuals that said, never mind, we’ll start our own film festival. As to obtaining the “oh so valuable” brand of the AFF— they have wisely said; thanks, but no thanks.

  4. Ken Hanke

    So who exactly is Andre Gower and what is CinemaSouth? I’d be a lot more intrigued by this if there was more information at hand. I’m sorry to see the Asheville Film Festival go — and I’ve yet to be sold on any of the plans (if that they can be called) to reinvent it under another name. All I’ve seen so far are vague claims of intent — not to mention an unfortunate whiff of hooking up with the biggest corporate theater chain in the country — but actual plans? Haven’t seen much of those.

  5. Ken, neither Anton, nor Gower expressed interest in AFF. Anton did make a bit better presentation, than Gower,(to me).

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed that something good emerges.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Ken, neither Anton, nor Gower expressed interest in AFF. Anton did make a bit better presentation, than Gower,(to me).

    Anton did originally plan on taking over the AFF from the city — there was a meeting about it (I was there) and it was presented as a done deal, which was reported on here not that long ago. (His original letter proposing he take it over was available on the internet, as was a city memorandum on the topic.) His interest cooled after questions were raised about the way the whole thing was done — though I don’t think any of that was his fault.

    Granted, I have a vested interest in this, since I’m probably the only person who was actively involved with the festival from 2003 through 2009. My problem, however, remains mostly grounded in the fact that I’ve yet to hear anything other than generalities.

  7. According to the memorandum written by Garlinghouse (though is purports to be from Young the document identifies Patti Garlinghouse as the author at 6:54 on May 24, 2010),…..and reprinted below; a media center of the size of WNCCMC needs $500,000 annually to survive. And that without a sizable boost in funding they will not be able to survive beyond Sept. 2010.
    Yet, at last Tuesday’s Council meeting Bobby Horn said that they now have the ability to survive for another year…and that the county was withholding their funding ($48,000), so they sounded an alarm just to get the membership to go to the County and demand the money. Something is not jiving here. Did they need $500,000 or the mere $48,000???? Was the county holding the money or not? Is someone lying???
    If so, why????

    Memorandum……………WNC Community Media Center……………May 24, 2010
    TO: Lauren Bradley, Assistant to the City Manager, Asheville, NC
    FROM: Jerry Young, Board President
    CC: Mayor of Asheville, City Council; County Commission Chairman, County
    Commission, County Manager, County Clerk, WNCCMC Board Members
    RE: WNC Community Media Center funding
    This letter is to inform you that with the current level of funding, WNC Community
    Media Center cannot operate beyond September, 2010.
    The entire access community greatly appreciates your support in the past and looks
    forward to working with you through the difficult transition period to State franchising.
    Contributing factors for the decision:
    1. Responsible financial planning needs financial stability.
    2. Staff consideration.
    3. The inability to sign long term operating contracts.
    4. Powering down is complex and must be done in stages.
    WNCCMC’s Preparation for State Franchising:
    • In December, 2007, the Media Center reserved $100,000 from the original 5-year
    endowment (intended to last only through FY 2010) to accommodate the transition period
    to State funding. This amount is being used for FY 2010 expenses.
    • Extreme reduction in expenses were made during FY 2010.
    PEG Access consists of a network of 3,000 centers across the country. There are various
    ways in which to approach funding. E and G have an in-kind infrastructure. Public Access
    (without an infrastructure or the ability to levy taxes) requires the subsidy. The average center of
    comparable size and traffic receives $500,000 in secure funding.
    Above all, Public Access is predicated on public use, available resources and product for
    sustainability. The Media Center’s record on this accord is a model that you can match with any
    major operation in the country. The general community integration period for public access is 3-5
    years. Asheville and Buncombe County has accomplished this in 3!
    Please feel free to contact our Board or Executive Director, Pat Garlinghouse, for any
    additional details that you might need. We look forward to continuing our work together for a
    community service without equal.

  8. Watcher, we instructed Staff to come back to us with options per the festival. Jan Davis, in particular, seemed to agree with me that the City festival has some value and shouldn’t be given away to just anyone. The RFP idea is not off the table.

    I’d disappointed that this coverage missed the biggest story of the evening, and misreported what little mention was made. Council didn’t renew lease agreements for mixed-use projects on Biltmore, it extended the window for financing a public-private partnership that will cost the City $14 million for an unnecessary parking deck. The project, if it goes forward, will suck all of the available money out of transit/parking and preclude sidewalk, bike lane, downtown shuttle and other related projects (absent significant tax increases). That’s why I voted “no.”

    We very much need to look at what we really need and want downtown. Is the goal to store more autos in a garage or to make stores, restaurants, business services and tourism more accessible and convenient? For the same annualized cost we can add a couple of hundred parking slots or provide free transit service throughout downtown on quiet, electric shuttles. A parking deck lets you park in walking distance of a handful of businesses. A free shuttle lets you access the entire downtown without taking a long hike or re-parking. Combined with satellite surface parking areas (which are often provided free* by private businesses in other cities) and more frequent transit on the main lines, we can provide a better solution to the perceived problem of “not enough parking downtown.”

    *Private developers often provide free surface lots so that commuters offload at their shopping centers, to purchase groceries,for example, before getting in the cars to head home.

  9. Cecil it didn’t get a lot of notice, that’s for sure. But since then I’ve not passed by the Hot Dog King without remembering your comment about subsidizing them at $10,000. a month. I suspect that anyone who watches the council meeting via VOD, will remember also. Frankly I think it’s unconsionable that the city is subsidizing HDK.

    I do think a shuttle for downtown would be a very good thing.

  10. “Granted, I have a vested interest in this, since I’m probably the only person who was actively involved with the festival from 2003 through 2009. My problem, however, remains mostly grounded in the fact that I’ve yet to hear anything other than generalities. “

    So Ken, having an unique (behind the scenes) point of view….what do you think went wrong? Was it timing (bad economy erupting) planning, management, or not enough interest /support?

  11. Ken Hanke

    So Ken, having an unique (behind the scenes) point of view….what do you think went wrong? Was it timing (bad economy erupting) planning, management, or not enough interest /support?

    All those things play a role in it — and there are others. The single biggest problem was probably the fact that the same people in charge of it were also in charge of Bele Chere, so any promotion of the AFF always came to a screeching halt while that was tended to. Unfortunately, that just happened to be the exact same time when the AFF most needed promoting and working on. There are other things, but those open a can of worms I am not about to open here. It’ll be interesting to see what happens now, since I already see signs of many of the same root problems in the plans — or envisionings, more appropriately — I’m hearing.

  12. Curious

    Could Mr. Hanke tell us if the 1939 “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was filmed in Asheville. . or is that just an urban legend, like the Walt Disney drawing somewhere in the city’s archives?

  13. Ken Hanke

    Could Mr. Hanke tell us if the 1939 “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was filmed in Asheville.

    Yes, I could, but I won’t.

  14. Curious

    I asked, “Could Mr. Hanke tell us if the 1939 “Hunchback of Notre Dame” was filmed in Asheville.

    He replied, “Yes, I could, but I won’t.”

    A serious question, a smartalec answer from MountainX’s respected and knowledgeable film writer. Is this the way the newspaper fulfills its stated mission “to promote thoughtful, diverse community dialogue?”

  15. Ken Hanke

    A serious question

    Seriously, that was a serious question? I thought it was a smart-aleck question. Sorry. The answer is simple — no. What made you think it was? Or where did you hear that?

  16. Curious

    Re “Hunchback of Notre Dame” filmed in Asheville. MountainX reported that last week, in an article by Michael Muller, I believe. I questioned it then, surprised Ken Hanke didn’t catch it.

  17. Jeff Fobes

    Curious is correct in saying that MX reported the film was shot in Asheville — Muller’s June 23 “The Biz” article says: “Completed in 1924, the Jackson Building was the first skyscraper in Western North Carolina; the 1939 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was filmed there, and the neo-Gothic structure remains an attention-getter today.”

    No source was noted. So we need to hear from Michael Muller.

    link: http://www.mountainx.com/news/2010/062310task_mania_leaves_the_nest

  18. Ken Hanke

    surprised Ken Hanke didn’t catch it

    Probably has something to do with me not having read it. (I don’t necessarily read everything in the paper.) If I had read it, I’d have questioned it then because it sounds preposterous and doesn’t line up with any information I have on the Wm. Dieterle Hunchback, which so far as I know is a pure Hollywood production.

  19. Betty Cloer Wallace

    I hope someone can provide a definitive answer about whether Hunchback being partially filmed in AVL is an urban legend. That story has persisted here for many decades.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I hope someone can provide a definitive answer about whether Hunchback being partially filmed in AVL is an urban legend. That story has persisted here for many decades.

    Well, look at the film and ask yourself what they would have been drawn here for. I can’t think of anything. Cool as the Jackson Building is, it’s not exactly in the period of the film. Has anyone ever indicated what part of it was supposed to have been shot here?

  21. Betty Cloer Wallace

    Ken, I don’t recall ever hearing it associated with the Jackson Building in particular–just that it was partially filmed in Asheville.

  22. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I don’t recall ever hearing it associated with the Jackson Building in particular—just that it was partially filmed in Asheville.

    I don’t suppose any of this suggests why or what part of the movie? I’m definitely inclined to think it a myth.

  23. If HUNCHBACK was a Hollywood production, that’s an awfully long way to travel to film the Jackson building. I seriously doubt it.

  24. Curious

    Guess we’re still waiting to hear from Michael Muller. Does Mountain Xpress go back and correct inaccuracies in stories it has already published, so the errors don’t become a forever-and-ever part of the Web?

  25. Ken Hanke

    To more or less possibly set the record straight, Mr. Muller seems to have come across this in a book called Asheville Ghosts and Legends, which does indeed itself make the leap from saying that the building “reminds one” of the bell tower in the ’39 Hunchback to baldly stating that it was used in the film. If you don’t know the film, chances are you would take the statement at face value. (The IMDb (not by any means infallible) claims that the bell tower interiors for the film were shot in the Mudd Hall of Philosophy at USC.) Now, where the book came up with this is anybody’s guess, since I’m presuming from what Betty says that the story likely predates the book.

    Really, this sort of thing happens in movie history all the time. A story gets printed in a book and then it makes its way into other books. It’s a wonder anything is ever correct.

  26. Media Watcher

    Is Mr. Muller’s use of a fact that seemed peculiar even to a general reader like Curious been something that his copy editor should have flagged for checking?

  27. Ken Hanke

    a general reader like Curious

    How does one determine that someone who isn’t providing their real name is a general reader? And I have to seriously ask, how important is this particular issue?

  28. JWTJr

    What’s up with Gordon proposing things not on the agenda? Its happened a few times now.

  29. Michael Muller

    Hello all — I apologize for the delay in responding. Been trying to track down the authors of the book from whence the reference comes, “Asheville Ghosts & Legends,” to get their source. No luck yet.

    Page 98 of that book says: “The bell tower used in the 1939 movie is the tower of the L.B. Jackson Building.”

    I’ll let you know what I find out. Should the information prove incorrect, I’ll certainly print a retraction…and happily submit to a severe and public flogging.

  30. Media Watchera

    Mr. Hanke asks, “And I have to seriously ask, how important is this particular issue? ”

    And I ask, “How important is it for reporters to check their facts and use reliable sources and how important is it for editors to flag items that should be checked before being printed?”

    Mr Muller doesn’t need a public flogging. He does need to be wary of the Internet and Google for finding “facts.”

  31. Ken Hanke

    And I ask, “How important is it for reporters to check their facts and use reliable sources and how important is it for editors to flag items that should be checked before being printed?”

    And I ask how important is it in this case? Not very. It’s not from some hard news story. Consider this excerpt from a piece in the New York Times about the revival of movie houses in the midwest:

    Steve Hart, 40, a farmer in Langdon who helped revive the Roxy, tells of a paralyzing Christmas blizzard several years ago. The phone started ringing shortly afterward.

    “Do you have a movie?” people wanted to know.

    “An hour later,” he recalled, “there were 90 people on Main Street, even though there was only one path through the drifts and the movie was ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.’ ”

    That made it through the Times editing process. It’s also obviously wrong — if the blizzard was “several years ago,” people most certainly did not trudge through the snow to see a movie that came out this past Christmas.The reporter either took the story at face value or got it wrong, but it never occurred to anyone to raise a question. Is it wrong? Assuredly. Does it matter? Not a great deal.

    He does need to be wary of the Internet and Google for finding “facts.”

    I’d agree, but this originated in a book. It just happens that the book appears to have been wrong. You might be surprised how often that happens.

  32. Media Watcher

    ” . . .The reporter either took the story at face value or got it wrong, but it never occurred to anyone to raise a question. Is it wrong? Assuredly. Does it matter? Not a great deal. . .”

    Oh, heck, Ken Hanke is right, facts and accuracy don’t matter in newspapers, except maybe in matters of life and death. Certainly not in stories about movies.

  33. Ken Hanke

    Oh, heck, Ken Hanke is right, facts and accuracy don’t matter in newspapers, except maybe in matters of life and death. Certainly not in stories about movies.

    I never said that, but this wasn’t even a story about movies. It was a part of a story about a building.

    You know, back when I was in high school, the Tampa Tribune ran an article that asserted that James MacArthur had played “Boy” in the Tarzan movies. Well, that’s wrong, so I wrote them a letter — and bear in mind, we’re talking paper, envelope, stamp, my real verifiable name, all that ancient stuff — pointing out that MacArthur never played boy, but that it was Johnny Sheffield. They ran the letter (first thing I had published, in fact) and that was the end of it. It didn’t become some inflated issue.

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