‘State of Downtown Asheville’ address: Parking, safety improvements needed; busking debate looms

Susan Roderick was among recipients of the Asheville Downtown Association's Hero Awards. Photo by Jake Frankel

In the years ahead, Asheville Downtown Association Board President Adrian Vassallo wants the nonprofit to help cultivate a “dynamic downtown of innovation, business and opportunity for all,” he says. “Not just a downtown playground for visitors.”

Addressing a packed room of supporters at the organization’s Jan. 15 State of Downtown Luncheon in the U.S. Cellular Center’s Banquet Hall, Vassallo outlined some of the goals and challenges facing those working to improve the central business district.

Decades of work to lure visitors downtown have been successful, he said. And the throngs of tourists walking the sidewalks, shopping and eating in local restaurants attests to that fact — as well as record-breaking hotel occupancy rates.

Now, the ADA and its partners must work to accommodate those visitors, while at the same time make downtown more livable for locals, Vassallo said. A top priority should be increased parking, particularly in fast-growing areas like the South Slope, he argued. The area is seeing an explosive rise of breweries, restaurants and mixed-use developments, but “if we don’t come forward with a parking solution for that part of town, we will choke that growth,” he said.

Other top goals include improving safety and cleanliness.

Vassallo urged the the Asheville Police Department to fully staff a downtown patrol unit “that practices community policing in our downtown 24/7.”

He praised the city for stepping-up its power washing of downtown sidewalks and streets in 2014, but said even more is needed in the year ahead.

Debates over downtown busking rules and noise ordinance complaints are also looming.

Noting that the ADA recently met with a group of Asheville buskers, Vassallo said that the street musicians “are beloved.” But he warned that some merchants are expressing concerns that this summer, more buskers could take to the streets than ever, causing problems. The ADA “will be coming forward with recommendations over the next few months” to the city’s Public Safety Committee, Vassallo revealed. This fall, buskers successfully organized to protest any restrictions being considered by that committee.

Meanwhile, the ADA is raising money to complete a strategic plan to guide its work for the next three to five years. The hope is to formulate a plan for helping the nonprofit transform downtown from “a destination to a hub of innovation.” Part of that process will be seeking ideas from stakeholders about what’s most needed in coming months, he said.

The luncheon also featured a celebratory ceremony for recipients of this year’s Downtown Hero Awards, given to three people the group deemed as playing key roles in improving the central business district.

This year’s honorees were:

Jim Daniels is owner of Daniels Graphics, a family business that operated in downtown Asheville for many years. As a downtown business and property owner, Daniels knew the importance of attracting more people to downtown and was one of the founders of Quality 76 (now Asheville GreenWorks) and the Bele Chere festival. He has also served on the boards of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Asheville Area Arts Council, and the Buncombe County Economic Development Commission, among many others.

Susan Roderick was also involved in the Quality 76 effort to spruce up Asheville for the country’s bicentennial celebration. Quality 76 became Quality Forward, then Asheville GreenWorks. Roderick served as the organization’s executive director for more than 35 years. During that time, she led countless projects in downtown to clean up streets and sidewalks, plant trees and remove graffiti. Roderick’s passion inspired community pride in thousands of GreenWorks volunteers and staff.

Franzi Charen founded the Asheville Grown Business Alliance and is co-owner of downtown business Hip Replacements. The Asheville Grown Business Alliance (AGBA) is a network of independent businesses providing resources and support to local business owners. AGBA’s Go Local Card is now in its fourth year and offers specials and discounts to cardholders for patronizing local businesses. A portion of the card’s proceeds also supports area schools.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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7 thoughts on “‘State of Downtown Asheville’ address: Parking, safety improvements needed; busking debate looms

  1. John Penley

    The photo used to illustrate this story seems to show only White people or maybe I am mistaken. Diversity in hiring is definitely not on this agenda and it is pretty obvious why not. Is there a problem with systemic racism and is the downtown area still discriminating in jobs and economic opportunity like it was when I grew up here in the 50s and 60s and went to segregated schools ? Has anyone in this group even thought about this ? I would love a reply to these questions but I highly doubt I will get one.

    • AVL Downtown Association

      Hi John, thanks for your comment. Racial diversity is certainly on our radar and we’ve had some initial conversations with local groups like the Community Relations Council and Date My City. We’re not sure of the solution just yet, but are glad to be involved in the conversation. We welcome suggestions from you and other others in the community. Meghan, Executive Director, Asheville Downtown Association

      • John penley

        Thank you for your prompt reply Meghan and I am really happy to see it is on your radar. In case you didn’t know I was co-captain of the first integrated Asheville High Football team and my dad was the first white principal of a black high school in NC…Stevens Lee [just to let you know that I am a native of Asheville and am very aware of Asheville history in regard to segregation and discrimination and not someone who moved here]. After living in New York City for many years I returned home to Asheville and noticed that , in my opinion, there were very few non white people working in the Downtown Asheville area. Even back in the days of segregation it seems to me there was more diversity. S@W cafe which my grandfather,who was a Methodist minister, loved to take me to back then had a very large number of black employees and nowhere now in Downtown Asheville does it appear that there are as many non white people working in one place. A black woman that I know told me not too long ago that she had a degree in Business but that when she applied for a job at one of the new Downtown Asheville hotels she was told that they only had openings in housekeeping. I ride ART for transportation and listen to many non whites who live in projects that were built when I was in junior high talk about Downtown and there is definitely a perception that there are no jobs available for them there. We need to change this and I hope that openly talking about it will help. Living in NYC for so Iong I became used to seeing all races working everywhere and it should be like this in Asheville too. In my opinion, now ,it is not. In addition I believe that since Asheville is now a nationally recognized tourist destination and with speculation that President Obama may even move here after he leaves office it would be a plus for Asheville if Downtown Asheville business owners reached out and hired more non white youth and that goes for the Asheville Fire and Police Departments as well. Thank you again for your reply and sorry I was a bit confrontational in my first post here but that is just the way I am.

  2. Twinks

    Does South Slope need more parking or just less private, we’ll tow you if we find you parking? Looking around Coxe and Hilliard, the area is about 70% parking lot, the public just can’t use it. We need to consolidate the land used for parking and make more shared and public parking options.

    • ashevillain7

      Need a parking deck on that side of town IMO. There are only 2 parking decks South of College/Patton and both of those are off Biltmore. The South Slope needs a parking deck. This would not only help new businesses in the area but old ones as well…like McCormick Field, which has a terrible parking situation for a baseball stadium.

  3. Sean Osborne

    Back in the early 1980s, I was a street musician in Santa Cruz, CA. A similar debate was just starting there, in which the downtown merchants were complaining that the buskers were driving customers away. Long story short, Santa Cruz decided to drastically limit busking, and generally make life hard on the homeless. The result? All the happy smiling dead-heads and hippies left town, because happy smiling hippies don’t like being harassed and glared at. But the number of homeless remained the same, only the *type* of homeless changed. Instead of smiling hippies, Santa Cruz became a haven for alcoholics, drunks, and skinheads – the sort of people who don’t care if they’re hated and glared at.

    Asheville cannot completely remove its homeless population, any more than any other city can. But we *can* decide what sort of homeless people we are going to have. Personally, I think smiling happy hippies and street musicians are a lot better for business than junkies and drunks.

    Think about it.

  4. As mentioned already, Asheville is very much on the national radar. We need to make sure we do not make the same mistake every other city in America that has gotten thrown in the limelite did. Remember what put us in the spotlight. We need to stay “weird” and progressive. First and most simple step is do not restrict buskers. It is ironic that downtown businesses would complain about the buskers, they play a vital roll in attracting and retaining the very people who spend money at the businesses. Next, why add more police unless there is an increase in crime. A higher police presence implies “bad area”. A more complicated but vital issue to stay progressive is diversity. The city needs more minorities in all positions. Keep Asheville weird or 10 years from now we will be just another city that had its minute of fame.

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