Pack Square Conservancy considers putting park pavilion on chopping block

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

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7 thoughts on “Pack Square Conservancy considers putting park pavilion on chopping block

  1. Cecil Bothwell

    Carol King is delusional: “probably the pavilion was the building the public wanted the most.”

    Which public? Most of the “public” I have spoken with were angry that the trees and wonderful antique clock were torn down to make way for what amounts to one more Chamber of Commerce information center. The “public” I have spoken with loved the old City/County grass and trees and hope that the new park will have MORE grass and MORE trees, and yes, a stage—though the shortcomings of the old portable stage system are not particularly clear. What the “public” mostly wants is to have its park back.

    Nobody outside of the “beltway” gives a tinkers dam about the pavilion.

  2. LOKEL

    This beats all!

    How is it that no one from the County Commissioners has stepped in and said enough is enough?

    This entire project is operating with no one guiding the ship ….. the budget has never been approved and signed off on …. how is that possible.

    And now 3 years after the damn thing is supposed to have been finished all we have is a mud hole smack in the n=middle of downtown.

    How much was spent relocating the “power sub-station” that used sit where the “pavilion” is supposed to be located …. and now the idiots want to scrap the plans.

    Someone should call for an independent investigation into the practices and policies of this bunch of buffoons!

  3. DaveN

    Two words: Construction Manager

    This project definately needs a professional to move it forward to completion. Maybe that person exists, but is hamstringed by the conservency. Clear the way and get it done.
    Lets look at the reasons why someone would want to come to Asheville…
    Hmmm…well there is the Pack Square that we call our “living room” and that’s in shambles.
    Have their car towed from improper parking
    Aggressive panhandlers and knuckleheads sleeping, vomitting and performing other unmentionable things on the sidewalks…
    And speaking of sidewalks…lets tear them all up and the vital streets too during the height of tourist season.
    And look at all this artwork…no…thats graffiti.
    Part of being a good and polite host is making your guest(s) as comfortable as possible…We are failing in that regard.
    How do we fix this? Are their any public officials willing to lead the way on this? Of all of the cities I have lived in around the country, this city has the most potential, but the stewardship of this gem is lacking.

  4. James Fisher

    If construction went at this pace during economic boom times, what will happen now? Those of us who truly love downtown and want the best possible outcome with this project have nothing hopeful to draw from and plenty to be seriously worried about. What is the best, fastest way to get a good green space back? Who is leading this and answering these questions?

  5. AshevilleObserver

    Once again your reporter Jason Sandford has covered something of great community interest that appears to have been missed by the Citizen-Times.

  6. Jake

    So why not rehab the Hayes-Hobson building and make THAT the visitors center? Save the old building, have a place you can sell naming rights to (how important is this?), help pull more tourists over towards Eagle-Market, and dollars to doughnuts it’d cost less than building that pavilion. So why not?

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