The board charged with overseeing the construction of the new $20 million Pack Square Park in the heart of downtown Asheville discussed dumping a planned $2.46 million park pavilion during its regular meeting Wednesday.
Members of the Pack Square Conservancy board said they’re concerned about securing funding for the building, and that an ongoing delay in finalizing a contract for construction was having a negative impact on current construction. The board decided it would make a final call on whether to move forward with the pavilion at its Jan. 7 meeting.
The pavilion was designed as a key public space in the jewel of a park under construction. The 4,200-square-foot building would sit at the center of the 6.5-acre park, which extends from the steps of Asheville City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse west to Pack Square. Building design features include geo-thermal heating, public restrooms, a restaurant and office space for the conservancy.
Conservancy Chairwoman Carol King said that of all the park features, including a large new stage and an interactive water fountain, “probably the pavilion was the building the public wanted the most.”
When board member Herman Turk asked, “What is the downside of not building the pavilion?”, King answered that there would be a loss of funds from the loss of the ability to sell naming rights, and “there would be a whole lot of angry donors” who have already given money. Board members said there would also be a fee associated with walking away from the project and its contractor.
The conservancy has been negotiating with Asheville contractor Beverly-Grant to build the structure, and had hoped to have a contract in place earlier this year, when it awarded a $7.5 million contract to ValleyCrest Landscape Development for the final major phase of park construction. But no contract has been signed with Beverly-Grant, and the board recently asked the contractor to put subcontractor work out for bid. Beverly-Grant complied, and its guaranteed maximum price for the project remained the same, according to King, who said the process frustrated her.
“I just don’t feel like we’ve gotten anything from them” in the negotiating process, she said.
Board members also expressed concern about its ability to pay for the building. The national economy is in a recession, and the conservancy still needs to raise about $5 million to pay for all aspects of the new park. “We don’t know where the $2.5 million (for the pavilion) will come from,” Turk said.
The board said one option might be to simply put off construction of the pavilion until a later date.
Meantime, the pavilion question is affecting current construction by ValleyCrest, which is having to work around the mid-park location planned for the building, board members said. ValleyCrest wants to know “sooner rather than later” whether or not the pavilion construction is a go, board member Jim Efland said. Board member Kelly Miller, who won appointment to Asheville City Council on Tuesday, said he was worried about the impact of the delay and urged the board to get together a cost-benefit analysis of different options before moving ahead.
Miller added that, “I’m nervous,” and said, “The question should be how soon can we open the park.”
The conservancy has been the subject of continuing criticism over construction delays, which stretch back to the project’s inception. Ground was broken on the project in 2005, with a planned completion date of 2007. The current park construction is scheduled to be complete in September 2009. Over that time, the project’s budget has ballooned to its current price tag of $20 million. An audit by an auditor for Buncombe County government found that the conservancy has been operating with a budget and a timeline that has yet to be approved by county commissioners, a violation of a stipulation in the agreement between commissioners and Asheville City Council that created the board to oversee park construction. And the construction upheaval has triggered numerous complaints from downtown restaurant and business owners, who have said the ongoing disruption has translated to lost business.
In other business, the board:
• Agreed to move ahead with the drilling of one test well needed for the geo-thermal heating of the pavilion. The drilling will cost about $10,000.
• Made several board appointments and re-appointments, and decided to create a “chair-elect” position that it plans to fill next month. Current Chairwoman Carol King said the chair-elect would handle more of the current construction details while she focused on big-picture issues and the organization transitioned from construction to park programming.
• Held a closed session meeting to discuss a personnel issue. The board is currently searching for a new executive director to replace Marilyn Geiselman, who plans to step aside. The board, which offered the job to a prospect in November and was turned down, took no action in open session.
• Decided to spend about $5,000 to install three 400-watt lights on 36-foot-tall poles to improve lighting in the construction area at night.
• Heard a report that current construction is running about three months behind schedule, meaning the completion date could move back from September 2009 to December 2009. The board, which has to approve any extension in the construction schedule, did not take any action Wednesday.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor