Chain reaction

Development always seems to be controversial in Asheville, and with City Council elections looming, that goes double. One particularly hot topic is whether to allow chain stores and “big-box” retailers downtown.

The anti-chain gang: City Council candidate Elaine Lite, who’s proposed banning or limiting chain stores in downtown. photos by jonathan welch

Candidate Elaine Lite took a controversial position early on, proposing that the city prohibit so-called “big box” retailers in the downtown area, and also ban or strictly limit chain stores. And across the political spectrum, Council candidates have had sometimes surprising views on the issue (see sidebar, “The Candidates Weigh In”).

The Asheville Downtown Association is also taking a close look at the question, says Dwight Butner, the group’s president. The ADA, he notes, is drafting a city-funded master plan for the central business district. (Butner is also running for City Council; see sidebar for his comments as a candidate.) In addition, chain stores will be the focus of an Oct. 18 forum organized by the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods.

Mellow out?: Mellow Mushroom, on Broadway, is part of a regional chain. Lite notes it would be “tricky” to make a chain-store ordinance that encompasses such businesses.

Lite, however, doesn’t want to wait. “We have a unique downtown,” she maintains. “And what’s unique about it is that there are all these local businesses. That needs to be the basis of the economy downtown.”

Lite worries that places like Coxe Avenue or Broadway Street, as well as increasingly urbanized corridors such as Merrimon Avenue, could start seeing proposals for big-box stores—something she feels is inappropriate.

“Stores of that size in an area like downtown are completely outrageous,” says Lite. “The average store in downtown is about 3,000 square feet; the average Home Depot is 140,000. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

To some extent, a de facto ban on big-box stores already exists. Much of downtown is currently zoned Central Business District, which does not allow such large-scale retailers. But Lite points to the controversial Merrimon Avenue Staples, located just on the other side of Interstate 240, as an example of how close to downtown such stores can come.

The candidates weigh in

by David Forbes

There are 15 candidates running for the Asheville City Council this year, and every one of them has something to say about development, chains and “big-box” stores downtown. Here are the sometimes surprising results of an Xpress straw poll on the subject (for Elaine Lite‘s views, see main story, “Chain Reaction”):

Donna Bateman: “We don’t need great, big buildings here; we don’t need chain stores. If they start coming in, they’ll be all over the place. There’s a place for chain stores outside of downtown. This is a nice, quaint little city—let’s leave it that way.”

Steve Bledsoe: “While I personally feel that big-box stores are not a good fit for downtown Asheville, I do not feel that the city should limit the type of businesses that develop in this area, as long as they meet the building and development codes and regulations. If we exclude chain stores today, what do we exclude next? We need to be careful of how far we go.”

Dwight Butner: “Personally, I don’t feel chain stores are very conducive to the kind of business that should be in downtown. But we need to hold forums and discussions on this issue and carefully consider it. We need to ask the residents of downtown what they want, instead of telling them what they should do.”

Christopher Chiaromonte: “I don’t think chain stores belong in downtown. The more they come in, the more they’ll kill off the mom-and-pop businesses. They’ll kill downtown; but downtown’s gotten so expensive we probably just need to leave it for the tourists.”

Jan Davis: “As a small-business owner in downtown, I don’t find national chains terribly constructive, and I don’t particularly like them. But there are property rights; there is the right to do business. Those stores employ people, they pay taxes and they provide services. To categorically say ‘You can’t do business here’ is wrong.”

Bryan Freeborn: “I’m not in favor of big-box stores, period. There’s very little else you can do with a building like that. … I think it’s hard to say we definitively don’t want chain stores downtown. If a local entrepreneur has a store and wants to open up a second or third one downtown, I wouldn’t want to tell them no. Downtown, in many places, was built by department stores. … We don’t want to end up like Anytown, U.S.A., but it would be nice to have more places where people working downtown could get clothes or groceries.”

Matt Hebb: “I have said before that I would support a restaurant- and retail-chain ban for a portion of downtown. While I am a conservative and strongly believe in the free market, I believe that we must protect our assets and resources. This includes our vibrant downtown. Theodore Roosevelt taught us that preservation is a very important aspect of conservatism. Preserving our culture and natural resources are also part of this commitment and philosophy.”

Bobby Johnston: “I would have concerns about big-box stores in the downtown area. With current development and expected future development, such as the two new hotels, I feel as if it would greatly add to the parking and traffic problems that we have in the downtown area now.
In response to chain stores in the downtown area, it would be based on supply and demand of products for people who live and work in the downtown area.”

William C. Meredith: “I understand the need to preserve Asheville’s unique downtown atmosphere, and I agree that any large chain store would not be to scale for our current environment.”

Brownie Newman: “I’m in favor of using a formula that would regulate chain stores in downtown. … As for big boxes, Councilman Freeborn and I are looking to close a loophole that allows [them] to go beyond 75,000 square feet.”

Bill Russell: “I eat at Mellow Mushroom every Saturday, and it’s a chain and a great part of downtown. I feel it’s crazy to have City Council picking and choosing what type of businesses are allowed to come to Asheville.  For everyone who doesn’t like a Target, Barley’s, Red Lobster or Trips … there are people who do like it. Supply and demand, along with
our free-enterprise system, should take care of itself when it comes to
businesses and where they want and are allowed to do business.”

Lindsey Simerly: “In brief, I think Elaine [Lite] is right-on. In addition to hurting our local businesses, big-box stores hurt tourism. People come to Asheville because it is a unique and beautiful city much different than their hometowns. By allowing big-box stores in our downtown, we are simply homogenizing our vibrant downtown into Anytown, U.S.A.”

Selina Sullivan:“I think not allowing big-box stores downtown is a no-brainer. People don’t walk around downtown to go to Wal-Mart! They come to eat at places like Tupelo Honey Café and Vincenzos and Bouchon; they come to shop at places like Woolworth Walk and Malaprops and The Jazzy Giraffe. Now, as for other upscale chain stores and boutiques that want to fit in, I say bring ‘em on. I know I’d love to see Prada or Coach Leather set up shop downtown.”

Dee Williams: “There is a difference between big-box and chain stores. There are some chains, like Marble Slab and O.P. Taylor’s toy store, which are designed for smaller, specialized shopping areas. To avoid discrimination, we need to look at policy as regards footprint and square-footage requirements. Restraint of trade, competition and the lack of proper nomenclature … needs to be avoided by following policies which are designed to protect the character of downtown and sense of place, according to square footage, character, etc. … The problems are greater than big boxes downtown, because none are coming—nor do they want to.”


The issue has not escaped the notice of Council member Brownie Newman, either. Newman says he sent a letter to his Council colleauges several months ago urging them to consider a “formula for chain stores in downtown. It wouldn’t prohibit them, but it would limit how many in a certain area and make them customize the store to be in keeping with the surroundings.”

To date, the only chain stores downtown are much smaller-scale businesses—so much so that people often don’t even realize they’re chains. Still, chains can run the gamut from national giants such as Subway and CVS to smaller regional businesses like Mast General Store and Doc Chey’s.

“I really like Mast General,” says Lite. “There are chains like that or Mellow Mushroom that put a lot back into the community and really have a local flavor. It is going to be tricky, and we’ll need some very creative wording. Any ordinance would have to incorporate the size of the chain as well as how invested it is in the community.”

The Subway sandwich shop near the Grove Arcade, notes Lite, is one example of the kinds of challenges any such ordinance would face.

“If you look at that, it’s not that intrusive, but it’s still a national chain right in the heart of downtown,” she says. “We do need an aggressive ‘buy local’ campaign [that speaks] to the character of the city; we don’t want to end up looking like ‘Anywhere, U.S.A.’ Whether it’s a ban or some strict limits, we need to do this before that happens. We’re running into the problem that the cost of coming in here is getting so prohibitive that chains are the only ones who can do it.”

Lite maintains that such a policy would also provide economic benefits, because considerably more of the money spent at local businesses remains within the local economy.

Another issue is how to define the borders of Asheville’s “downtown,” especially since the city has been encouraging downtownlike development in other parts of town. “Ideally, I would like to see this extended into some of those areas, as well as the urban villages that are being planned,” she explains. “We’re going to have to be very careful on the wording and definitions, but it can be done.” To that end, Lite says she’s been looking at similar ordinances enacted in other parts of the country, including several in New England.

One such example is Nantucket, Mass., where the arrival of a downtown Ralph Lauren store in 2006 prompted town residents to ban retail chains having more than 14 outlets from opening stores in the downtown area. The measure, enacted in a town meeting, specifically exempts gas stations, grocery stores, banks and service firms.

Barring chains from a downtown is an unusual measure, says Philip Berke, a professor of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. In North Carolina, he notes, “Asheville and Chapel Hill are about the only places … that would consider it. In both places, you have people concerned with things other than just cheap goods, which is perfectly valid. But usually a place will make it tough on chains with requirements for design and the like.” Any such ban, he notes, would “need a very clear rationale, because it’s going to run into issues of commerce and the free market. It’s hard to make a legal argument for favoring one business over another.”

Still, Berke says he understands where these concerns come from. “There’s a real sense of place in Asheville—that’s part of why it’s beautiful—and people really care about that.” Chains, he says, “don’t necessarily reflect that, and they are more likely to pull out. We’ve had that problem around here, where a chain will pay its lease, leave, and then the business space is just sitting empty.”

Judging by continuing discussion on the Xpress Web site, local opinions on the matter are divided.

“I would hate to see Asheville become another clone city. I love it here because it is UNIQUE!!! not because it has stores you can find anywhere else,” wrote a reader who identified herself as “Emily.” “While I would still have to do some more thinking on the issue, right now I wouldn’t really mind a ban on chain stores.”

Then there is “lokel,” who sharply disagreed, writing, “I would hope that any business would be a welcomed change from rundown, empty lots and crumbling buildings from days gone by. National chains are what made downtown even exist to start with. … Almost all of the ‘anchor’ stores in the Asheville Mall used to be downtown.”

Many expressed views falling somewhere between those two positions. “There are many franchises that have also confronted this situation before and in fact have become sensitive and adapted their signage, image and renovations in a way that [has] helped the downtown areas to rejuvenate in a good way,” “ronyvee” wrote. “We need to be open-minded and deal with the franchises on a one-by-one basis and see what they may be willing to do to become a part of Asheville, rather than Asheville becoming a part of them.”

Reader “robclose” concurred, citing CVS as a positive example of a downtown chain. “Their presence downtown seems to be serving a tremendously useful function. Then again, we don’t need a huge store here downtown. But that’s obvious, and anyone who approved that should be run out of town. Blanket laws seem like naive knee-jerk reactionism.”

Reader “Don Mak” argued that Asheville needs both chain and local stores. “There are ways that these chain stores can adapt to the vibe of downtown Asheville as well. I think of the McDonald’s in Biltmore. They went the extra mile to blend in, and I must say it is quite nice, even though I am not a McDonald’s fan. Decatur, Ga., has a nice mix of both local and chain stores and seems to be prospering well.”

Public Interest Projects, a local developer, has played a significant role in downtown development. Chain stores, says staffer Harry Weiss, can have “an effect that’s a lot like a pebble in a pond. Even if they don’t compete directly, a high-credit, well-funded national chain can pay higher rents than a local business.”

“Structurally,” notes Weiss, “downtown spaces are generally small and irregular—not a good fit for national chains.” In addition, he says, “local businesses are what give this city a lot of its flavor.” But Weiss maintains that some needs will be hard for local businesses to meet.

“A grocery store in the heart of downtown will be a sign that we’ve arrived,” he asserts. “But it’s 99 percent likely that’s going to be a chain.”

The key, says Weiss, is to keep in mind that “downtown is still changing. People think that downtown is finished. It’s not. We’re heading into a new phase. Downtown can still be more vibrant, more dense, more thriving.”

But in charting the way forward, “I would be extremely cautious,” Weiss warns. “There’s a lot of stuff that still needs to be defined here. What’s the ultimate goal [for downtown]?”


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11 thoughts on “Chain reaction

  1. I find it interesting that this has been an Asheville urban legend for many years – many people have always just assumed that Big Business America wasn’t allowed to crowd in on downtown. I applaud candidate Elaine Lite for bringing up such an important issue of growth and economy.

    Candidate Dee Williams has one of the best outlooks on the situation –
    There are some chains – like Mellow Mushroom and Marble Slap – that seem to fit perfectly into the downtown ambiance that Asheville markets to visitors.

    However, by allowing “Big-Box” stores such as Staples and Subway to merge onto the scene of Asheville’s arts & freaks atmosphere you will have to sacrifice the flavor of one to accommodate the other. We can observe from other cities that often mega-rich corporations most always win the taste-testing contest, even if the ingredients are full of poison.

    During this boom-cycle of incoming migration to Asheville one can witness the lack of median-wage jobs. With as upscale as Asheville tries to push itself as, we need to continue setting higher standards of living wages in order to maintain positive growth. Wealthier companies coming to Asheville can bring good growth opportunities economically and ecologically if we are wise in our building stipulations. The capitalist market allows us the freedom to build, but we as Ashevillian’s also have the freedom to choose where & how to build.

    Why not put a mandate that prevents, for lack of a better term, “Big-Box” corporations from building within a 3-5 mile radius of downtown? We could offer cleaning up parts of Broadway (goodness knows that old pink crack-house is a waste of space) or the Riverside industrial district as alternatives for some of the (hopefully) more progressive companies who may want to franchise here. We can also demand building restrictions as far as green-energy and maintaining Asheville’s architectural design appeal.

    Another alternative is to research what some other conscious downtowns are doing such as Great Barrington, MA; Mount Rainier, MD & Ithica, NY – creating alternative currency programs.

    There are some interesting articles to be found on this “Think Globally, Act Locally” trend:
    New age town embraces dollar alternative
    Alternative currency promotes fresh thinking about sustainable economics…-a086048345
    The color of money: alternative currency promotes fresh thinking about sustainable economics.
    America’s Most Enlightened Towns

    I like the last article the best, “American’s Most Enlightened Towns” –
    I think that may be the only list Asheville ISN’T on and SHOULD be.

    -Jen Bowen

  2. Anytime that government tells us who can or can’t open business, it’s a dangerous precedent.

    Elaine Lite and her ilk are just figuring out another way to try to run our lives. You people get mad about the Patriot Act, but you don’t get mad about government telling us what to do in this instance. If you don’t like chains, don’t shop there. It’s that easy. The market will keep them away.

    Instead of doing that, we’ll get another law and more bureaucracy because people want every aspect of their lives to be regulated, because that makes them feel better about themselves.

  3. dave

    Well, Jason, you make a good point.

    How do you feel about the Federal Government protecting National Forests? Should individuals and businesses be allowed to develop homes and malls in the National Forest?

    It is humorous to me that one can rail about the out-of-control liberals who want to socialize everything and create more bureaucracy when “socialized programs” are a tradition inseperably intertwined with this Nation’s history. Hospitals, Libraries, roads, etc etc etc. Things you and I use and benefit from every day that would not exist without a grand-plan that is thought out beyond the wonders of the ‘free-market”

    I’m curious, do you actually style yourself a fiscal conservative, or is it only in contrast to the hoards of invading ‘hippies’ and the like who you so obviously have a neurotic hatred against?

    Jen Bowen brings up some valid points, all of which you gloss over to make a generalization about how stupid people are, and therfore, how intelligent you are.

    Do you often find this really adds to the depth of a conversation, Jason?

    I think the issues this subject brings up are fascinating. Sure, we want a ‘pristine’ downtown, but do we want to enforce it with a heavy-handed, top-down mandate from our elected officials? Or, in contrast, do we want to claim, as does Bill Russel, that regulating how our downtown develops is in defiance of the principals of the free market? This, I feel, is a very valid argument that We in the city of Asheville can decide on our own, without dogmas from either “side”.

    Many people who are a part of this community have seen what “unbridled free market principles” can do to a downtown. Although there are plenty of examples, one only need to wander down to, say, Spartanburg, SC to see an example of unbridled Sprawl destroying the inner-core of a city. Block after block of failed mini-mall and pizza places that are now abandoned buildings. So is that something we want to welcome?

    I sympathize with your “Everybody sucks” and “Liberals/Hippies are coddled hypocrites”, but the sentiment is too one-sided to be true or productive in debate. The reality is, in this Community that is Asheville (and if you have ever lived anywhere else you can not deny that our Wonderful City has a very strong Community), we have a Wonderful, Unique, and Vibrant Downtown that many of us wish to preserve and nurture.

    Although i dont think this means we are the greatest little town ever, I do feel a good bit of Pride in being a part of a town that has such an interesting take on life.

    I am glad to see that council members (and prospective council members) are listening to their constituents as well as their own political philosophies on this subject. We have a very unique opportunity to continue to shape Asheville in a very special way. The current downtown wouldnt be what it is today without the long-term vision of a handful of property owners (like Julian Price) who saw past the immediate returns in the typical, tried and true Mcdonalds-and- Wal-Mart downtown scheme, and instead allowed something with a lasting character to emerge and come to fruition.

    I am thankful for this and glad that enough people care about this community to discuss how to continue to properly manage it’s growth.

    And to compare a local communities’ collective desire to regulate how it’s downtown develops to something like the Patriot Act is an intriguing concept.

    Do you mean to say that, like the Patriot Act, Elaine Lite hopes to disassemble the Constitution, create legal loopholes for wire taps on law-abiding citizens, and criminalize political dissent? Is that really the comparison you are trying to make? Because it seems a bit, well, far-fetched to me.

  4. Sage

    I think it’s imperative that Asheville restrict grossly out of place national chains downtown. I applaud Elaine Lite for taking such a strong and impassioned stance on the pressing issue. Crafting such an ordinance is tricky and time consuming but it has been done in other cities and we can do the same here. Asheville is lauded for having an incredibly diverse and interesting downtown because of all of the unique local stores not found elsewhere. Do we really want Malaprops to be forced out by Barnes&Noble;and a Gap and Banana Republic in The Grove Arcade? All could easily happen without proper planning and diligence. It would be terribly sad if Asheville did nothing and went the way of downtown Charleston where I used to live. Chains have conquered the peninsula. Art galleries replaced by Banana Republic. An old historical theater turned into an Urban Outfitters. The horror stories go on and on. Yes the buildings still remain and they are beautiful but the intangible quality and sense of “place” is diluted along King Street and the experience feels like an outdoor strip mall. Don’t let that happen here.

  5. hauntedheadnc

    I’m a big advocate of maintaining downtown Asheville’s current flavor, although I am as equally strong an advocate of urban development in the city because I think that’s the best and smartest way for the city to grow and face the reality that it’s going to grow.

    Therefore, I think that perhaps the best approach to take is to encourage chains, especially the upscale ones that are now taking an interest in Asheville, to locate in the new urbanist developments popping up lately. Either that, or they should be encouraged to locate in neighborhoods like Biltmore Village, which are upscale, have always been upscale, and will never be anything but upscale. There’s room for them, and there’s room for the crunchy businesses that characterize downtown.

    Or perhaps they should be encouraged to locate in the developing parts of downtown such as the South Slope, where urban growth is just beginning to spill downhill from downtown to the Medical District. Either way, I think we can reach a compromise that preserves downtown’s flavor (although I’m a big fan of Subway, and the downtown Subway is one of the only ones in the region that still has the seafood and crab mixture to which I’m addicted), while accommodating new growth. Banning chains outright is silly, especially when it’s national chains, such as Kress, Woolworth, Bon Marche, and Belk and JC Penney, that built downtown in the first place.

    So, to sum up: Invite the chains, but put them in the area’s new downtowns such as the one being built at Enka Lake, or at Biltmore Park. Or, invite the chains, but put them in new urban development in the South Slope, as downtown expands. Chains are good for business, but it’s great for business for downtown to maintain its hippie flavor.

  6. Kelly Homolka

    Two words everyone hates: rent control.

    I know Asheville isn’t on the same scale as these cities but Boston and San Francisco have rent control and have maintained their funky, urban,diverse character.

    Washington, DC and New York on the other hand have become Disneyland. They are perfectly clean, and are full of very expensive shops, restaurants and houses.

    Asheville can’t be both. You have to choose. It is a legitimate choice. Some people love the new New York and would never have even gone there before Guiliani. I prefer the old New York and the old Asheville.

    As for chains:
    1.Grandfather in the existing chains.
    2. Draw a line on the map- don’t include Biltmore Village, do include Montford. East and West boundaries are obvious.
    3. Make special exceptions for needed services and review them on a case by case basis (grocery store, pharmacy and the like).
    4. Let the citizens vote.

    The high end chains are already coming to Biltmore Village (Williams and Sonoma if I heard right). The folks who want a downtown experience but don’t like “funky” can go there.

    One last thing: the travel article in the NY Times about Asheville is the 2nd most popular article this week- all those wealthy folks are emailing that article to each other and will once again descend on Asheville which is GREAT, because they will be supporting OUR LOCAL businesses. And that is why they come- if they wanted to go to a chain store they could stay home!

  7. charles cardozo

    You can still roll a bowling ball down most downtown streets and not hit anyone except a homeless panhandler….This is the downtown everyone is praising….Asheville needs stores which can attract people and bring in money for the other independents….Hasn’t anyone approached a Woolworth type store, or a Barnes and Noble, or perhaps a great cineplex with a great neon marquee….Asheville is boring, even with everyone praising its own downtown…They really havent been to europe to see what downtowns are really like…Filled with people, cafes, NO HOMELESS, No mentally ill clogging the streets, great bookstores etc….Asheville’s restored arcade is in big trouble because nobody is ever in its downtown..Newcomers visit one time and soon depart for the malls….Downtown has NO DRAW, regardless of what you say…It is empty……The people living here, downtown, deserve to have a cineplex, target type store, Barnes and Noble, HomeGoods etc….These chains can be forced to either build new buildings in new urban style or restore all of the abandoned buildings lining the so called thriving streets…Putting an awning on a building is not a thriving street….Be honest! Asheville, with all the money spent , is still a panhandlers delight….If you want a university , put one downtown….Send scouts around the country to see what other places have done…..In fact, why not convert DOWNTOWN,into a LIFESTYLE MALL….It’s what people want and Asheville has it, except the vision to create it…Ironically, someone will eventually build a large lifestyle center in the area and it will drain the 3 towns completely…None of them have the understanding on how to create a business center, filled with people…I agree, most cities are far worse than Asheville, but they are dead and admit it….Asheville is pretending and that is the problem…No real understanding…When I read some local woman is against boxes, it shows you how limited her vision is….A box, designed to look like an art deco gem with a great interior, possibly looking like it did in the thirties, would stimulate downtown…Instead, some little antique store selling old clothing is what Asheville thinks its future should be…Why not have both and the little store can be protected with rent control and the box stores can bring in her customers as well….ALL THE SENIORS MOVING INTO THE REGION, WOULD LOVE TO HAVE A LARGE, WALK AROUND DOWNTOWN….Unfortunately, one trip to asheville, does it for them….We know why and still won’t do anything to change it…..Why not tear down those hideous glass boxes around the square to begin with….Every photo of the square is aimed at an angle to limit their visibility…This is the Asheville you are protecting……charles cardozo

  8. hauntedheadnc

    You know, Charles, I think I’d like to visit the Bizarro world Asheville you describe, but I haven’t been able to since about the late 80’s or early 90’s, when it ceased to exist. You’ve lost your mind. My advice? Check between the couch cushions. That’s where I usually find lost items. Either that or under the bed. Best of luck.

  9. another chalres


    So, by having a Nordstrom’s in the downtown, we will get rid of homeless people? Or by being more European we will have no homeless people?
    Or being more like a large, urban city of a few hundred thousand people, then we would have scores of folks downtown? Because we are only a town of 75 thousand last time I checked, so it may be difficult to emulate Paris or London just yet.

    Although, in all fairness, I do like the idea of making at least part of downtown a pedestrian mall (I think thats what your referring to, its hard to tell), but I dont think it would be very feasible with the wacky design of the downtown. Too much through traffic that cant be diverted anywhere else.

    I’d say the Grove Arcade is in “big trouble” (if it, in fact, is) because it is filled with overpriced crap that nobody, including tourists, really needs or wants.

    I dont think tourists come to Asheville to shop at the tunnel road Mall.

    And, where exactly would you place the University in the downtown area?

    Thanks for the insightful input.

  10. 1. Implement Neighborhood Zoning Authorities to delegate growth, development and land use decisions to the neighborhood level and away from the city-wide approach.

    2. Implement a split property tax based on land value taxation concept where land is taxed at six times any improvements but which remains revenue-neutral.

    3. No, wait . . . neither can be done. NC is not a home rule state.

  11. charles cardozo

    Nordstoms wouldn’t come to Asheville because the image of the town is much too low….However, Asheville, with a metro of over 350,000 could be a city and should have a downtown focus,much as it did in the twenties and thirties….If you think a counter culture city is what Asheville should be, then the city will simply die and become inhabited by the drop outs and victims of foreclosures elsewhere….Tourism is way off because Asheville offers nothing other than Biltmore….People visit the HOME, go downtown, realize that there is nothing there except the panhandlers and mental cases, either smoking or doing crystal meth and quickly depart…The Fine Arts theatre is important, but what else is there?…..Check the admissions at the hospitals to see what the locals have turned too…Sadly, instead of using the architecture of the twenties over again for box stores, which is what a downtown was, RETAIL TO BEGIN WITH, Asheville thinks that the counter culture with its antique shops selling stuff thrown onto the streeets is the way to attract tourists…In the majority of smaller french cities, between 175,000 and 350,000, light rail has been installed to bring people into the revived downtowns..Fast trains from outlying areas, use streets, but with priority traffic signals, private right of way and overpasses at key intersections….It reduces traffic and stimulated every french city..Malls have died and downtown won…..Yes, France, which opposed our Iraqi policy is also light years ahead in reviving their downtowns…..Retail, including Carrefours, the box store, are in every downtown….Department stores only open in the downtowns and virtually all new hotels are built in the downtown….Asheville has decentralized so terribly, that the thought of having a focal point is something a younger generation has no concept of….So, sadly , continue to praise a downtown which is lifeless and on life support and continue to block box stores which can easily be forced to adapt to stricter standards when enforced….Meanwhile, tax revenues vitally needed, go to outlying areas and asheville, puts out photos of Pack Square as it was in 1930….Nobody has the vision sadly, and any attempt to change what has destroyed asheville gradually will be met with contempt by the very people who by virtue of being on anti depressive therapy, do not venture far from home….Vist France the next time you can get away…..Think of Asheville when you are walking down the main streets of Nantes, Montpelier, Grenoble, and the dozens of other Asheville size towns….

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