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.