Buzzworm news briefs

Taking the Civic Center debate online

Taking advantage of the newest version of civic discourse, longtime Asheville Civic Center monitor David Bailey has launched a personal Web site focused on the future — in both form and function — of this heavily studied local icon.

Bailey’s homegrown “Asheville’s Controversial Civic Center,” at www.civiccentercontroversy.com, entered the digital fray two weeks ago, and he says he’s getting very enthusiastic feedback. “They just think it’s great,” he says of the readers who have contacted him.

His purpose? “To provide information not being provided elsewhere, particularly in broadcast and the daily news media,” says Bailey, who is a retired Asheville stockbroker.

“I’ve always been interested in the Civic Center. I was one of those who helped put it where it is now. We had a huge controversy at that time [the 1970s] … and I was one of many people trying to find the right place for it to be located.”

Years later, he’s sticking to that location. He sums up his argument succinctly: “Renovate the existing structure.”

With 30 years of money management under his belt, Bailey minces no words on his Web site about such topics as “How Many Studies, How Many Committees?” and “Do We Really Need A Sports Arena?” He also talks about “Trying to Move it Out of Town” and “Philanthropic Possibilities,” among other musings. His droll conclusion under the “How Many Studies” category: “Is this a case of analysis paralysis? Obsessive/compulsive[?] Or Alzheimer’s[?]”

Bailey has plenty to say on the subject, but the site is up and running thanks to his wife, Cathey Bailey — who has included a quick survey to garner readers’ opinions about all of the above.

— Nelda Holder

Oh, the Horror: Ken Hanke on Tim Burton

Hanke book on Burton

Call him Asheville’s reigning King of Criticism — or Mountain Xpress‘ movie reviewer, if you prefer. Whatever you want to call Ken “Cranky” Hanke, you can soon do so to his face, since he’s scheduled to stage several movie presentations/discussions at Asheville’s Pack Memorial Library in July and August. His topic is something of a Hanke obsession: the inventive filmmaker, Tim Burton.

In fact, Hanke’s Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker (Renaissance Books, 2000), was the first full-length biography to be written on Burton. Hanke has authored several other books — on topics ranging from filmmaker Ken Russell to Charlie Chan movies to horror flicks — and he’s got two new ones in the works. He has contributed numerous articles for film magazines and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. And just last month, 20th Century Fox released a new multipart Charlie Chan documentary package that features Hanke as an expert on the subject.

The list could go on. In short, Hanke lives and breathes the movies.

Hanke’s film fixation began at 9 years old, when his father bought him his first issue of the now-legendary magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland (“The Magazine Monsters Believe In!”). Hanke’s been hooked on classic horror ever since, but over time he was forced to expand his range. “When I ran out of horror films to watch,” he says, “I started watching other things.”

Some of his other faves are old musicals, Marx brothers and Charlie Chan movies, and films from the late 1960s and early ’70s.

Of course, Hanke’s first love is still with him; he recently attended the annual Monster Bash Convention in Pittsburgh, as he has for the past three years. And over the years he’s cultivated an abiding interest in director Tim Burton, who reputedly has a similar passion for monster movies. What first drew Hanke’s attention to the quirky filmmaker was his interest in film composer Danny Elfman (who has scored most of Burton’s movies over the years). Hanke went to see Burton’s 1985 Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure chiefly to hear Elfman’s musical score. Since then, he says, “I haven’t seen a Burton film I thought was worthless.”

So what’s our film critic’s favorite Burton work? It’s either Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood, depending on Hanke’s shifting mood.

The “Hanke on Burton” series is free and will take place in Pack’s Lord Auditorium on upcoming Saturdays:

• July 15 — A double feature of James and the Giant Peach and Frankenweenie starts at 10:15 a.m.

• Aug. 5 — Edward Scissorhands at 1 p.m.

• Aug. 12 — A double feature of Ed Wood and Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster at 1 p.m.

• Aug. 19 — Big Fish at 1 p.m.

For more information, call the library at 250-4720.

— Mannie Dalton

The kids are (almost) all right

In life there are real victories and there are moral victories. For those Buncombe County parents and their children who depend on state vouchers to offset the cost of childcare, the pending state budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year provides something in between.

Make no mistake: Childcare officials in Buncombe are clearly pleased. However, it still remains to be seen whether the increase will lift the county from dead last among the state’s 100 counties in the money it receives to care for children whose parents cannot afford private-pay rates at licensed childcare facilities (see “Suffer the Little Children,” June 21 Xpress).

The budget agreement would boost Buncombe’s reimbursement rate 35 percent closer to the suggested market rates put forth last year under a mandated, biennial study of county-by-county rates throughout the state. Care providers have been paid rates based on 1997 market data, which Buncombe County Child Care Services Director Fran Thigpen calls woefully inadequate for parents who often have to make up the difference charged by care providers. Because of the low rates, more than 100 childcare slots were lost last year when 10 centers were forced to close under duress. During the past five years, the number of licensed childcare programs in the county has declined by 15 percent, according to Amy Pike, the county’s subsidy coordinator.

“We’re so happy our local [legislative] delegation was down there [in Raleigh] pushing for us,” said a delighted Thigpen, who credited Buncombe Rep. Wilma Sherrill with spearheading the delegation’s effort to increase Buncombe’s rates.

The increases will only apply to parents who have subsidized children enrolled in higher quality three- to five-star facilities. Depending on the star rating and the age of the child, the increased subsidies will range from $17 per month to $109 per month more, per child, says Jacque Penick, director of the Mountain Area Child and Family Center in Swannanoa.

“This will give families a greater choice by allowing more centers to stay open,” she says, adding that it means fewer out-of-pocket expenses for financially distressed families. “It’s not near what we really need, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

— Hal Millard

Another one gets the boot

Bonnie's
Burned out: Bonnie’s manager, Jonathan Jones, lights up a smoke in this 2004 file photo.

“We have a lender that won’t let us lease to somebody that has declared bankruptcy,” explains Tom Singleton, managing partner of Southeastern Development of NC. He’s talking about the unexpected removal of Bonnie’s Little Corner tobacco shop. “That’s in their lease. [The store’s owners] have done that, so we’re not going to renew their lease.”

New development, rising rents and suddenly terminated leases are nothing new in today’s downtown Asheville, but rarely do they impact a business as well-established as this one.

For nearly 15 years, Bonnie’s Little Corner has been a fixture at the corner of Patton and Biltmore avenues, directly across from the Vance Monument. During that time, the business has witnessed downtown’s transformation from sparsely populated urban backwater to the potent tourist magnet that it is today. The store, which opened in 1992, offers mostly high-end and imported tobacco products as well as coffee, beer and wine.

As one of a dwindling number of havens for downtown smokers, the laid-back little shop boasts an extremely loyal customer base, reports Manager Jonathan Jones, the son of co-owner Bonnie Contreras. Indeed, a mere two years ago, Bonnie’s was profiled in these pages as a downtown hot spot (see “Blue in the Face,” May 2004 Xpress). But life at the little corner is soon to change.

The building that now houses Bonnie’s is prime real estate, strategically situated to snare tourist foot traffic. This was probably a factor in the decision by Southeastern Development — which also handles leasing for something called the Pack Square Project — to buy the building last year. Asked about the project, a Southeastern staffer declined to comment and abruptly hung up.

And while Bonnie’s has had its share of problems, financial and otherwise, the current trouble began last year when another family business, a grocery and laundromat on the outskirts of West Asheville’s Pisgah View Apartments housing project, closed after co-owner Hector Contreras was shot at. Their eight-year investment turned into a major financial loss for the family, and though they also own the Havana Express restaurant in the Asheville Mall, Bonnie’s Little Corner was one of their few stable sources of income during that time. According to Bonnie, the couple were forced to file for bankruptcy last year.

But the Contreras family claims that they’d had no indication of any problem at the tobacco shop until they received a letter in late April saying their lease would not be renewed. Bonnie says they made a variety of offers, including doubling their monthly rent, in exchange for an extension of their lease, but that Southeastern turned thumbs down. The store did eventually get a limited extension, she reports, but only after consulting a lawyer and asking Rep. Charles Taylor to intervene on their behalf. The extension runs through this year’s Bele Chere festival (July 28-30), typically one of the busiest weekends for the store.

Singleton, however, said there were no negotiations of any kind, adding that the Sisters McMullen Bakery is slated to take over the space beginning in August.

“We’ve signed a lease with someone that we feel is a better tenant for us,” he said. Asked what he meant by “a better tenant,” Singleton refused to comment and hung up.

As this story went to press, however, the Contreras family announced that Bonnie’s Little Corner expects to reopen in a new downtown location shortly after their lease extension expires in August.

— Steve Shanafelt

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