Graffiti, panhandling, other downtown ills worsening, Council told

Asheville’s downtown is more than a mere place, it’s a brand and an economic engine that needs protecting and constant fine-tuning. That was the gist of a presentation by Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Kelly Miller to City Council members at its Oct. 21 meeting.

At issue, Miller said, are problems that plague most cities but which stand out in a city such as Asheville, which calls upon its beauty and special charms to entice visitors and new residents as well as act as a magnet to recruit business. The main problems, he said, are graffiti, filth, litter and garbage, panhandling, predatory towing, downtown construction and repairs that make the city hard to navigate, and poorly lit areas, among other things. And while he lauded the city and especially city staff for trying to tackle the issues, Miller noted many of these problems are getting worse.

“Graffiti, filth, litter, and weeds growing from sidewalks and vacant lots are getting worse,” he said in his report. “Vacant store fronts remain untidy long after tenants have relocated or closed.” Further, he added, panhandling “seems to be increasing and is more aggressive, which translates into the perception that downtown is becoming increasingly unsafe.”

As for predatory towing, he said, “We have got to collectively get our arms around the towing situation. The installation of the BCTDA funded wayfinding project will help direct traffic to public lots, so this should offer some relief. Still, we receive a fair number of letters from both extremely upset visitors and residents whose autos have been towed. The Chamber is ready to roll up its collective sleeves with other groups to come up with deployable solutions and welcome your input.”

“Downtown Asheville, as a stand-alone destination brand, is at a very critical crossroad,” said Miller. “A vibrant, clean, safe, graffiti-free downtown offers enormous strategic advantages for business recruitment, positive visitor experiences, and improved quality of life for residents.”

Miller described the downtown as “a delicate ecosystem,” where it was important to pay attention to details. To that end, a consensus of Council members agreed with Council member Carl Mumpower’s suggestion that the city get to work and put together specially tasked “action groups” to tackle the individual problems outlined by Miller. Mumpower and his fellow Council members agreed that such groups, in order to give them a sense of urgency, be tasked with coming up with workable and commonsense solutions within a 30- or 60-day timeframe.

But whatever these groups suggest, it’ll cost money, warned Council member Holly Jones. She asked Miller whether the city, which is beginning to feel the fallout from the nationwide financial crisis, could count on financial help from the TDA. “We’re already looking at a million-dollar shortfall,” Jones said. “The money’s just not there right now.”

Miller noted that the TDA is just as hard-pressed as the city and noted that hotel revenues are declining. The TDA gets a portion of its funding from hotel-occupancy taxes.

“It’ll be a hard year for us,” Miller said. “Knock on wood, we’ll have a good October.”

For a complete Council report, check out the Oct. 29 edition of Xpress.

— Hal L. Millard, staff writer


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8 thoughts on “Graffiti, panhandling, other downtown ills worsening, Council told

  1. shadmarsh

    You mean just making something illegal and arresting people didn’t make the problem go away? I’m shocked!

  2. LOKEL

    I thought the City had a street cleaning department that is paid to keep things in shape …. if not then I think someone owes the taxpayers a refund.

    They come out after Bele Chere and wash the streets … or is that just a one time thing?

    AS for the panhandling, graffiti etc. larger towns than Ashevegas have tried to get control of these problems to no avail … so maybe a new approach is needed.

  3. hauntedheadnc

    “…Graffiti, filth, litter and garbage, panhandling, predatory towing, downtown construction and repairs…”

    Wow. I guess we’re discovering that Asheville is a real, live city and not a magical tourist fairyland after all. How about that?

    I truly could not care less about these problems. Heck, perhaps we could turn them to our advantage with a new ad campaign for the tourists:

    Asheville: Mickey Mouse doesn’t live here.

  4. dave marks

    The reason for the problems in Asheville can be explained by the fact the city has allowed itself to become known as a “liberal Haight Ashbury” of the South. So the transplants have poured in. It is primarily them that sit around on North Lexington all day, then spray paint the town at night.

    The solution? The Asheville Police Dept needs to have more of a presence downtown instead of sitting in speed traps on the freeways. Then make the arrests stick.

  5. Zanna

    I think people who accuse “transplants” of all the problems are simply wanting an easy scapegoat. First of all, just because you see someone looking unusual, does not mean that they are the ones who threw litter on the ground or tagged a building. Secondly, not everyone “liberal” is from somewhere else. I know transgender individuals that were born here. Heck I myself am a 100% Appalachian native who happens also to look like a “goth”.

    Our homeless problem exploded practically overnight several years ago when the New Vista mental health services closed their doors on 100,000 or so of our regions most vulnerable individuals. Since that time psychiatric hospital after hospital has lost funding. Those of you who are saying that our homeless people came here from elsewhere in order to take advantage and have a good time need to pay attention to the actual facts- NO ONE wants to be homeless over an Appalachian winter, and if any have come here from elsewhere it’s because this is one of the only places in WNC where they can find a free bowl of warm soup. Many of these people were able to manage a meager existence when they still had access to medications and therapy, but when those things were taken away so was any chance they had at self sufficiency.

    People talk about the unfortunates on our park benches as though they are some type of horrid thugs. I recall just last summer sitting and talking to a local homeless lady, who seemed to be a nice typical self sufficient woman until her health failed and led her to the position she was in. She told me she had an ovarian cancer tumor growing inside her, and that she would have to wait NINE MONTHS before it could be cut out of her, or treated in any way at all. Think of her before you go sneering in the direction of anyone sleeping in a door stoop. This problem will only get more severe as the recession deepens, and if after this years elections certain promises of deregulating and privatizing health care get kept, then we can expect to see this in EVERY city.

  6. dave

    I’m glad Asheville is known as the “liberal Haight Ashbury”, since that other Haight Ashbury is usually known as the more “Conservative” one. All those squares in their suites, hangin out in the Golden Gate Park, doing their taxes and drinking high-balls. They dont even deserve to call it Haight Ashbury” anymore.

    And I do agree the cops should be busting more people in town. Fill the jails with petty misdemeanors! And throw away the key! That will be a very inexpensive solution for a city in financial trouble.

  7. dave

    Wait a minute, “weed” is growing from the sidewalk! No wonder its the “liberal Haight Ashbury”.

  8. Bryan Freeborn


    good point. When I was on council I worked with Davis and the Mayor to find funding to increase the public works dollars for keeping downtown clean. I guess they raided that part of the budget after I was gone too.

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