Pack Square Conservancy considers putting pavilion on hold

The board charged with overseeing the construction of the new $20 million Pack Square Park in the heart of downtown Asheville discussed scratching a planned $2.46 million pavilion during its regular meeting Wednesday.

One step at a time: Construction crews pouring concrete for the steps in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse, part of the new Pack Square Park. Photo Courtesy Pack Square Conservancy.

Members of the Pack Square Conservancy board said they’re concerned about securing funding for the structure, and that an ongoing delay in finalizing a construction contract was having a negative impact on other park construction. The board said it would make a final decision on the pavilion at its Jan. 7 meeting.

Envisioned as a key public space in the plush downtown park, the 4,200-square-foot structure would sit beside College Street in the midpark area of the 6.5-acre property, which extends from the steps of Asheville City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse west to Pack Square. As planned, the building would include geothermal heating, public restrooms, a restaurant, and office space for the conservancy.

Of all the park’s planned features, including a large new stage and an interactive water fountain, “Probably the pavilion was the building the public wanted the most,” noted Conservancy board Chair Carol King.

“What is the downside of not building the pavilion?” asked board member Herman Turk, and King said there would be a loss of funds due to the inability to sell naming rights. She also cautioned that “There would be a whole lot of angry donors” who have already given money. In addition, said board members, there would be a fee associated with walking away from the project and its contractor.

The conservancy has been negotiating with the Asheville-based 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, but its guaranteed maximum price for the project remained the same, said a frustrated King. “I just don’t feel like we’ve gotten anything from them” in the negotiating process, she added.

Board members also expressed concern about the conservancy’s ability to pay for the pavilion. The national economy is in a recession, and the group 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,” said Turk. The board said one option might be to simply postpoine construction of the pavilion till a later date.

Meanwhile, the unresolved question is affecting current efforts by ValleyCrest, which has to work around the central location allocated for the building, board members said. ValleyCrest wants to know “sooner rather than later” whether the pavilion construction is a go, board member Jim Efland said. Board member Kelly Miller, who was recently appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Asheville City Council, said he was worried about the impact of the delay and urged the board to pull together a cost-benefit analysis of different options before moving ahead.

“I’m nervous,” added Miller, saying, “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 finished in September 2009. Meanwhile, the project’s budget has ballooned to roughly $20 million.

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