Quick facts

Less alcohol, more money: For the fourth year in a row, Bele Chere made money this summer. Despite the new ban on alcohol sales on Sunday — which shaved about $13,000 from festival revenues — the event still netted about $67,000, Asheville Superintendent Butch Kisiah told City Council members during their Nov. 3 work session.

“That’s the number. But what we did with Bele Chere this year was amazing,” Kisiah said, mentioning three challenges that could have cut profits dramatically: On Friday, the first day of the event, temperatures soared to around 96 degrees; on Saturday, a sudden thunderstorm blew through town and disrupted the event; and on Sunday, no outdoor alcohol sales were allowed. To beat the heat, Bele Chere organizers and volunteers expanded the hospitality booths and, among other things, carted in more drinking water. And after the storm, crews got the festival back up and running within an hour, Kisiah added.

As for the alcohol-free day: “We still made money. … We made up for the [lost] revenue,” said Kisiah, mentioning that sponsorships were up 37 percent over last year. And the alcohol-free day seems to have resulted in more families with children attending the festival on Sunday, he remarked.

Council member Tommy Sellers — who had initially pushed to make the entire three-day festival alcohol free, but settled for Sunday — commented that it was an ccomplishment to make money, despite such a big change. He urged Council to continue the alcohol-free-Sunday policy (Sellers lost his bid to serve another term on Council; his current term ends this month).

Sellers also recounted that some folks hadn’t been too pleased with the alcohol-free concept: When he was the target at a Bele Chere dunking booth this past summer, one displeased festival-goer kept Sellers wet for quite a while. “He had a beer in one hand, a tennis ball in the other,” recalled Sellers.

Mayor Leni Sitnick complimented city staff for having generated more money from the same sponsors who pitch in for Bele Chere every year: “That’s like getting blood out of a turnip.”

Kisiah also mentioned one problem, however: the festival’s electrical infrastructure. The city runs temporary lines and poles for the festival each year, at a cost of nearly $30,000. He suggested that some of this year’s profits go toward a more permanent, more reliable — and, in the long run, less costly — fix.

Council took no action on Kisiah’s report.

Cedar Street purchase

Never pass up an opportunity to improve Asheville’s infrastructure: An Oakley intersection needs realigning, and it just happens that a homeowner is selling a small lot that would make the alteration possible, City Engineer Cathy Ball told Council members on Nov. 3. She recommended that the city buy the 0.17-acre lot at the corner of Cedar Street and Fairview Road. The purchase will enable city crews to improve the intersection and realign it with Liberty Street across the road, Ball indicated.

The property has been appraised at $104,000, the homeowner wants $122,500, and city staff propose offering $113,000, she explained, asking for Council’s approval. The funds would be appropriated from the city’s General Fund Balance.

With few comments — other than asking to see a very rough, hand-drawn sketch of the proposed improvements — Council members gave their tentative consent, and directed staff to put the item on the Nov. 9 consent agenda for adoption.

Sign up for public access

City Council members want public-access-television advocates to put their volunteer spirit where their mouths are: Only two Asheville residents have applied for seats on the city’s new Public Access Commission — and there are five slots open.

Council member Chuck Cloninger suggested extending the application deadline through Dec. 31 and spreading the word to residents who spoke up so passionately in favor of a public-access TV channel, back when Council was debating the new cable-franchise contract last year.

If that doesn’t work, Council members could personally “volunteer” some candidates: “We could … tap some people [and] tell them to send in an application,” Council member Barbara Field recommended.

The lack of interest is a problem, other Council members observed. At the start of the new year, city staff and Council will be selecting a nonprofit organization to run the new public-access channel; the new commission is supposed to oversee the management of the channel.

If the commission isn’t in place, noted City Manager Jim Westbrook, Council members will have to provide the needed oversight until the commission is up and running.

Council members agreed to extend the deadline.

But the new Public Access Commission wasn’t the only board wanting for appointees: Council members were also short on applicants for the new Greenway Commission, which was recently created by splitting up of the Tree and Greenway Commission. And all five of the applicants that Council members indicated they can immediately appoint to the seven-member body are women, Field observed. “We need more people!” she exclaimed.

Sitnick remarked that the gender imbalance seems only fair, since most of the city’s other boards and commissions are predominantly male. And City Attorney Bob Oast mentioned that a new state statute “encourages” gender equity on municipal boards and commissions.

As for other upcoming board-and-commission appointments, Council members took nearly an hour to go through a stack of applications, page by page, as they determined whom to interview and whom to reappoint. When Sitnick, looking at one applicant’s work history, asked, “What’s an expediter?” Cloninger joked, “Maybe we ought to have her for this selection process!”

Appointments and reappointments to a number of city boards and commissions will be made in upcoming formal sessions, Council members noted.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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