Buzzworm news briefs

Those buildings weren’t empty

The floodwaters of Hurricane Frances inundated 201 businesses and one residence and caused some $80 million in damages in Asheville, estimates Terry Summey, Asheville’s Director of Building Safety. Other communities suffered as well, most notably the nearby mill town of Canton where the raging Pigeon River destroyed dozens of homes and businesses, the City Hall and historic landmarks. And while photos of flooded buildings help to animate the level of structural destruction, they could hardly begin to show the losses suffered by those whose livelihoods were tied to those buildings. More than just a bizarre spectacle to gawk at, the flood for them was a life-altering experience.

Paul Olszewski is a painter and leather artist with a cavernous studio in an old tannery located in the river district. His leather designs have been featured in Vogue and sported by celebs such as David Bowie. He’s also been featured recently in an Xpress article about a fashion show at his studio that he and other designers had planned for Sept. 11. But on that date, his studio was still flooded with fetid water. “Everything has been transformed,” he told Xpress on Sept. 9. “I had years of work in there. When I went down to the studio the day of the flood, I had no idea how high the water was — then I saw people standing on the bridge, looking. I walked and then waded. By the time I got to my studio the water was up to my armpits. It was eerie inside, like a ghost ship — stuff was bobbing and it was strangely silent. Then I saw what looked like a muskrat swim by, and then a snake and a duck. I looked up and saw that a light was still on and figured I’d better leave.” With no insurance, Olszewski isn’t sure what will happen next, but he and his collaborators have rescheduled the fashion show for Oct. 9.

Jennifer Skarada, a student at Western North Carolina University is a server at Trevi’s, a Biltmore Village eatery. With the restaurant wiped out, she suddenly found herself standing in the county’s unemployment line. “I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d ever have to file for unemployment.” She and her husband own a house in Candler next to a bucolic stream. During the storm, the stream became a raging river that ripped up her driveway. “Frances got me at home and at work,” she noted with a blank stare.

Those are but two of the many tales of woe produced by Frances’ flood. But as quickly as the cleanup began, so, too, did community efforts to lend a hand to those whose lives have been disrupted by the waters. Here are some ways to help:

• The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association will be holding an all-day fundraiser on Sept. 22 to support all the employees of member restaurants Trevi and Rezaz (more than 50 employees from both restaurants are out of work). Participating restaurants will be donating 20 percent of their revenues on that day. If you can’t dine on the 22nd, donation envelopes will be available that weekend. The restaurants participating include: La Caterina, Pomodoros, The Greenery, The New French Bar, Cafe on the Square, Tupelo Honey, Savoy, Little Venice, The Grape Escape, Vincenzo’s, Los Volcanes, Southside Bank, Left Bank and Doc Chey’s.

• The Orange Peel will be holding a benefit concert on Oct. 15 to benefit River District artists whose studios were flooded. Acts will be announced soon.

• MANNA Foodbank is collecting the following items for hurricane-related relief: beef stew, soups, canned fruit, peanut butter, breakfast/granola bars, bottled water, diapers, personal-care items, cleaners and disinfectants. Checks to MANNA marked “hurricane relief” will be used to purchase items in bulk. Donated items can be dropped off at MANNA Foodbank, 627 Swannanoa River Road, Asheville (near the WNC Nature Center). Call 299-3663 for more info or to arrange for a pickup.

— Brian Sarzynski

Asheville’s boom a myth?

You probably hear it all the time: Everyone (and his cousin) is moving to Asheville; our population growth is booming, and in no time at all we’ll turn into a mountain version of Atlanta.

“This is a common misperception,” says Tom Tveidt, director of the Chamber’s Asheville Metro Business Research Center.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, says Tveidt, over the last 13 years the annual population growth rate in the four-county Asheville metro area has been 1.6 percent. That figure tops the national rate of 1.2 percent but falls below North Carolina’s 1.8 percent rate.

What’s more, adds Tveidt, the annual population growth rate for the Asheville metro is currently down to 1.1 percent (reflecting a trend of generally lower rates both nationally and state-wide).

“Today we expect the metro population to increase by about 4,200 persons each year,” says Tveidt. “The figure is well below the peak of nearly 7,000 additional persons in 1993.”

Overwhelmingly, the source of our current population growth is from in-migration, he notes. In fact, natural growth is slightly negative; there were 114 more deaths than births in 2003, the latest year with estimates.

Tveidt credits the higher population growth rate of 10 years ago to both in-migration and natural growth. But as the baby-boom generation has aged out of their childbearing years, he explains, the birth rate has dwindled and fallen below the death rate.

He also notes that the population growth trends differ noticeably among the four counties in the Asheville metro area: Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison (see table).

Positive natural population growth occurs only in Buncombe and Madison counties, points out Tveidt, but Madison’s total growth is negative due to out-migration. Henderson holds the highest annual growth rate at 1.5 percent, while Haywood has the most losses from deaths greater than births.

For more information from the Asheville Metro Business Research Center — including area statistics, demographics and economic outlook — visit www.ashevillechamber.org, click on “Economic Development” and then onto “Asheville Metro Business Research Center.”

— Lisa Watters

Artists wanted

The planned redesign of Asheville’s Pack Square will change the city forever — or at least for a few decades, if the square’s historical changes are any guide. That means the artists whose designs are incorporated into the new park will be part of a semi-permanent and very public exhibition.

Lorna Jordan, picked by the Pack Square Conservancy as the lead artist for the project, wants to incorporate work from WNC artists into the final design. According to the Conservancy, “New art will be incorporated into various elements of the park such as pavers, benches and water features, rather than being created as free-standing works.” Jordan has previously used this collaborative, integrative approach when helping to design the Ventura Harbor Wetlands in California and a park in Seattle.

“The revitalization of Pack Square and City/County Plaza provides a marvelous opportunity for artists to create works with personality and vision for downtown Asheville,” Jordan says.

Interested artists can pick up a “Call for Artists” application at area arts organizations or at www.packsquare.com. The deadline for submissions is Sept. 30, and the list of selected artists will be announced in late October.

For more info, phone (828) 252-2300 or visit www.packsquare.com.

— Cecil Bothwell

Parkway or autobahn?

Almost 70 years after groundbreaking, the Blue Ridge Parkway is essentially finished (apart from the sections washed away in the Frances deluge). And now the National Park Service is asking the public for input as it prepares a general management plan that will serve as the framework for all future development and preservation efforts along the scenic route.

“The Park Service is facing growing pressure to develop more access points along the parkway, which may sound appealing, but in practice would mean more traffic, more pollution, and more danger for the wildlife that depend on the parkway for their homes,” says Greg Kidd, associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s Southeast Regional Office.

Bob Gale, ecologist with the Western North Carolina Alliance observes, “The parkway is a ribbon of undeveloped land connecting the Shenandoah and Smoky mountains, which protects critical habitat for a variety of important plants and animals. The public has an opportunity to work with the Park Service to [determine] how these remarkable resources will be protected.”

The two groups will co-host a free public forum to discuss the Parkway’s plan on Saturday, Sept. 25, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at UNCA’s Reuter Center.

Forum participants will discuss the natural and cultural treasures along the parkway, as well as visions for the road’s future. They will also learn how to participate in the planning process. Speakers include landscape architect Carlton Abbott (the son of original parkway landscape architect Stanley Abbott) and Gary Johnson, the Parkway’s chief of resource planning.

In related news, the Parkway held a public “scoping” session Sept. 9 at its new headquarters on Hemphill Knob concerning the visitors center it hopes to build there. According to Phil Noblitt, managing assistant to the Parkway supervisor, “about 40 or 50 people” braved high water in the branches and no water in the center’s pipes to learn about the plans. Noblitt said that there will be one formal public comment meeting in October and a second formal meeting before plans are finalized.

— Cecil Bothwell

Ticket to ride (to the polls)

Voters of a certain age won’t have to thumb it on Election Day.

The Buncombe County Council on Aging is offering lifts to civic-minded citizens 75 and older who want to vote early.

Early voting takes place Oct. 14-30 at the county’s Training Room (199 College St.) next to the Board of Elections and at the branch libraries in the following areas: Black Mountain, Enka-Candler, Fairview, Leicester, south Buncombe, West Asheville and Weaverville.

Rides are available between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the following Thurdays: Oct. 14, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28. Riders must be registered voters.

You can’t wait till the last minute, though. Reservations are required by Sept. 30.

Call 258-8027 to reserve a seat.

— Tracy Rose

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