Downtown businesses offer help to speed up park completion

The president of the Asheville Downtown Association on Wednesday told the board overseeing construction of the new Pack Square Park that association members are ready to do volunteer work to hasten the park’s completion.

Byron Greiner told the Pack Square Conservancy that the nonprofit business association was willing to coordinate volunteer work wherever it might be needed.

“It’s something we wanted to bring forward to speed things along,” Greiner said. “We want to partner with you because it means so much to us.”

The conservancy is the nonprofit overseeing the $20 million remodeling of the center-city park, which includes 6.5 acres of land in the heart of downtown that extends from the steps of Asheville City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse into Pack Square. Construction started on the park in 2005, but the project has been plagued with delays, and some downtown business owners have complained that the ongoing disruption has hurt their bottom line.

Greiner said members of groups such as the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods, the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association and the Mountain Voices Alliance stand ready to help with everything from landscaping to ceremonial events.

Members of the conservancy thanked Greiner for the offer, but said that contractual obligations with the construction company hired to do the park work, as well as liability concerns, meant that volunteers might not be tapped until after the park opens.

The conservancy plans to open the park in sections, with the Pack Square section of the park due to open in April. The area of the park closest to City Hall and the county courthouse is scheduled to open in September, with the park’s mid-section opening about a month later.

In other action, the conservancy voted to approve the hiring of a new executive director, a vote that reiterated a vote the board apparently took in closed session last month.

On Jan. 28, the board announced it had hired Gary Giniat to replace Executive Director Marilyn Geiselman. Giniat, currently the vice president of marketing and public relations for the Chicago Children’s Museum, Giniat starts his new job Feb. 16 and has a salary of $60,000. The conservancy has been searching for a new executive director to replace Geiselman since September 2008.

The conservancy held its last public meeting on Jan. 6, which included a closed session to discuss a personnel matter. The board adjourned without taking any action in open session. After the board made its Jan. 28 announcement about the hiring of Giniat, the Mountain Xpress questioned whether it had followed proper procedure under North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law.

The law allows boards and commissions of public bodies to meet in closed session for several stated reasons, including to discuss personnel issues. But the law states action on an appointment — action such as a vote by the board — must be conducted in open, Amanda Martin, the N.C. Press Association’s general counsel, told Xpress in an e-mail on Monday. Martin quoted the state law:

“Final action making an appointment or discharge or removal by a public body having final authority for the appointment or discharge or removal shall be taken in an open meeting.”

It’s unclear whether the conservancy, a private nonprofit group that receives taxpayers’ money and private donations, falls under the state’s definition of a public body under the Open Meetings Law. But after a controversy about five years ago involving a reporter from the Asheville Citizen-Times, the conservancy decided it would abide by the requirements of the state law.

In a phone interview with Xpress Monday morning, Giniat said he’s looking forward to using his communication and marketing skills to boost the park.

“I love downtown Asheville,” said Giniat, adding that he’s visited Asheville often over the last 20 years and has friends in the area. “I think the park can really be a showcase for the city.”

The conservancy also voted Wednesday to name board member Guy Clerici the board’s chairman-elect. Clerici will take over for Chairwoman Carol King.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor 

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4 thoughts on “Downtown businesses offer help to speed up park completion

  1. nuvue

    Come on Pack sq. conservancy. (or whomever holds the pursestrings) If the money is there….Hire some folks that need the jobs and finish this thing up! I see job potential, just make up your minds (after 3 or so yrs) and bring the park back. If nothing else just grade it, plant some grass and take down the barricades….

  2. LOKEL

    Good Lord!

    They will probably say that the insurance they have will not allow “volunteers” to work at the site.

  3. hal

    This park should have been finished ages ago. It shouldn’t be taking this long. I’d help for a small rate of pay or even volunteer if it would hurry up and finish the thing. It’s an eyesore the way it stands now.

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