Burton Street neighborhood celebrates reopening of community center

The spiffed-up Burton Street Recreation Center should really just be called “home,” because that’s what it felt like Monday night as folks gathered to celebrate it’s recent reopening.

Neighbors hugged, carried in covered dishes and checked out the community center’s fresh paint and gleaming halls. A meeting place that was once a shabby symbol of the drug-ridden streets shined with a new sense of pride.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy cited all the hard work by the city staffers, police officers and politicians, but said “what really makes Burton Street great is the commitment of the residents” to their neighborhood. Bellamy highlighted the extraordinary efforts of resident Gloria Johnson to get the community center back on its feet. The ceremony also recognized the center’s first director, Iola Byers, who died last September, with a “hall of fame” display of plaques, proclamations and news stories detailing her work and awards.

The celebration marked the end of a $215,000 project to replace the kitchen, windows, doors, floors and ceilings in the 1920s-era building that was once Burton Street Elementary School. The money came in the form of $155,000 in tax dollars through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, plus $60,000 in taxpayers’ dollars from the city of Asheville. The renovation completed work that started in 2001 with a $50,000 N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust fund grant that paid for improvements to the building’s exterior, including a new playground, fence, benches and signs.

The building reopened in mid-December, and serves mainly as a space for an after-school recreation program and programs for older residents, according to Debbie Ivester of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. It also plays host to neighborhood association meetings, holiday programs and other community activities.

The Burton Street community was in the spotlight last week during Buncombe County commissioners’ discussion of which route they preferred for one of Asheville’s biggest road projects, the Interstate 26 Connector. Commissioners voted to back a proposed route that would demolish about 25 homes in the predominately African-American neighborhood and leave 13 others facing a sound wall. During the commissioners’ meeting, a number of Burton Street residents spoke passionately about their love of a community that’s turning around, as symbolized in part by the re-opening of the community center.

That turnaround has come with the help of more federal tax dollars. Over the last three years, the community has received $525,000 through the Weed and Seed program, which targets “weeds” such as crime, then “seeds” the community with resources. That money has paid for everything from police overtime to programs offering financial planning and disease prevention.

Dawa Hitch, the local Weed and Seed coordinator, said she’ll submit a $175,000 proposal next week for the next round of funding.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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3 thoughts on “Burton Street neighborhood celebrates reopening of community center

  1. Becky

    David Gantt and Holly Jones aren’t giving up on the demolishing of this neighborhood by the version of I-26 regular folks DON’T want. The developers, Chamber etc want the version that flattens this historic community, rather than looking at alternatives. The DOT has historically done whatever the heck it wants, regardless of any PR public meetings it has. their engineers think they are god, they really do. We need to lobby our legislators and Perdue. The African American communities in this town have historically been bulldozed, flattened, ignored. It happened near Eagle St. years ago, through good intentions, with some bad results. Let’s try to get the train headed away from this special and important community, part of our heritage. We want the I-26 plan from the Design Center, NOT the one the good old boys are trying to shove down our throats (thanks a lot Bill Stanley and Carol Peterson and Kay Ray, what a disappointment you three are! Cowards!)

  2. Austin

    Becky, has a petition been formed yet? Is there anyone taking the lead with this? How do I get involved with the petitioning?

  3. Gordon Smith

    Austin – I’m reposting a comment from another thread here. The Facebook group will be updated with action items as they come forth:

    Tonight’s dedication of the remodeled Burton St. Community Center was an event full of hope and energy. While there’s no telling what’ll happen if the DOT fires up the bulldozers to go after this historic place, the Burton St. community is moving forward with their intention of strengthening the neighborhood.

    Bill Stanley, Carol Peterson, and Ray Bailey weren’t at the Community Center tonight. Their vote for Alternative 3 runs in opposition to any statements they might make about wanting to protect Burton St., and I’m sure they won’t ever have the stones to go to Burton St. and talk to the people there.

    Mayor Bellamy, Commissioner Jones, Councilman Davis, and Councilman Miller all showed up. Miller supports Alternative 3, though I’m not sure folks there know that.

    Anyway – I write this to say that Burton St. may not be radicalized at all. They are simply displaying perseverance and courage in the face of overwhelming adversity. They are community heroes and deserve all of our support.
    […]
    And you can join the Save Burton St. Facebook Group here:

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=43283128380&ref=mf

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