For their St. Patrick’s Day meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners may have wished they had the luck o’ the Irish (or at least a stout beer), as the Pack Square Conservancy laid out their plans to raise the additional millions needed to complete the ambitious park renovations — and the state of the economy forced the county to delay consolidating their offices.
• Officials from the Pack Square Conservancy, the nonprofit charged with carrying out and maintaining the ongoing park renovations, said that the Pack Square portion of the park would be open in early May. The project’s costs have ballooned over the past three years from $6 million to $20 million. Most of the increase, the officials said, was due to sharp rises in construction materials and unexpected infrastructure difficulties.
However, according to conservancy Treasurer Charles Russell, “We feel confident we’ll be able to get this money to complete the park. We’ve also made a request to a consortium of local banks for a line of credit — maximum $2 million. Our resources are good and they’ve flowed well.”
The conservancy has also made design changes from its original plans, adding the WNC Veterans’ Memorial, scaling back some of the fountains and expanding the planned size of a centerpiece pavilion (while delaying the pavilion’s construction until more money is raised).
The commissioners unanimously approved the conservancy’s design and budget changes.
Commissioner Carol Peterson called for the conservancy to report to the commissioners and other public groups more often, in order to clear up questions about the project.
“So much of what the community wants to know could have been waylaid if we’d had this information sooner,” Peterson said. “Get out any time you can and talk to the public. Thank you for what you’re doing but let’s have more conversation.”
Commissioner Holly Jones remained skeptical of the ease of raising money in tight economic times.
“I’m just not feeling the love here in terms of people giving the money,” she said.
The conservancy’s new executive director, Gary Giniat, responded that “trimming the budget is a priority.”
• The board also heard a report from County Manager Wanda Greene that recommended the county delay taking any action on consolidating many or all of its offices under one roof to address space concerns, given the state of the economy.
“This is what concerns me,” Greene said, showing figures of precipitous decline in the stock market over the past few months. “We’re all better off if we see what everyone’s going to do before we adopt a solution to our facility challenges. The state’s in very dire straits, and we’re going to be a part of the cuts needed to solve that. We’ll bring you our recommendations after the budget process,” she said — a process that will be completed in the next eight to 10 weeks.
Commissioner K. Ray Bailey spoke well of Greene’s conclusions.
“I think the conservative in me is really showing,” he said. “No one really knows where we’re going to be three months or six months from now. I for one want to go very slowly in this process.”
• The board also approved a plan to move its meeting location — after 81 years in the Buncombe County Courthouse — just down the road to 30 Valley St., to provide desperately needed space for the court system.
“There’s a recognition we’re required by law to provide adequate court space,” Board Chair David Gantt said.
“Folks you can’t take on a judge — they’ve got a thing called a court order,” long-time Commissioner Bill Stanley added. Fortunately it didn’t come to that, and we worked out a way to move. I’ve enjoyed my 20 years here. I’m sad to move, it’s a sad day, but I look forward to my new quarters.”
The board’s meeting time — 4:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of every month — will remain the same.
— David Forbes, staff writer