Year in Review: Development and tourism remain hot topics

Biking in the River Arts District
PEDAL TO THE METAL: Protected bike lanes like this one in Asheville's River Arts District have won widespread acclaim from local transportation and recreation activists. Photo by Jack Igelman, courtesy of Carolina Public Press

This summer, Xpress wrote about West Asheville homeowners making the most of the city’s shrinking available land by building up instead of out — and the rest of town seems to have followed suit.

Wherever you look in Asheville, development seems to be happening at an unrelenting clip. For example, a report by the Inspection Report Network found that for every 1,000 existing homes in the Asheville metropolitan area, 18.4 new housing units had been authorized in 2021, compared with an average of 12.5 new units per 1,000 existing units across the U.S.

For a town with so many arts, food and beverage, outdoors and other cultural offerings, such development is perhaps expected. Tourists also continue to show high interest in the area: The fiscal year ending in June set new records for Buncombe County lodging sales, and this year’s numbers are on track to exceed that mark. But navigating those moving to and visiting from outside Western North Carolina brings its own set of challenges and rewards.

To gain a broader perspective on the past year in tourism and development, Xpress consulted some of Asheville’s most notable figures in those fields, as well as those significantly impacted by their decisions. 

What’s something new that you’ve seen built close to where you live or work, and how has it impacted your daily life?

“The Merrimon Avenue reconfiguration had a tremendous impact on my professional and personal life. The project demonstrates that our state and local transportation officials are willing to prioritize safety over speed, which speaks to future complete street opportunities. I also received hate mail over my support of the reconfiguration and had to navigate the impacts of vitriol on my well-being. I look forward to more civil discourse in 2023.” — Mike Sule, executive director, Asheville on Bikes 

“Asheville City Council’s unanimous decision to build the Memorial Stadium track and walking trails is a triumph for the East End/Valley Street neighborhood and our entire Asheville community. It’s the fulfillment of a promise, and it will benefit everyone’s health and well-being.” — Will Harlan, conservation biologist, Center for Biological Diversity

“The new Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center is still under construction, so it hasn’t impacted my life yet. It’s still to be seen if it will be a place for people from the community to go and swim and enjoy or if it is going to be for gentrifiers. They are fixing potholes now that have been in the road for 20 years — it makes you question who it’s being built for.” — Kikkoman Shaw, executive chef, Equal Plates Project

“Being a craft beer lover, I immediately thought of 7 Clans Brewing. It opened earlier this year, and its beer and atmosphere are awesome. It was also nice to see part of Interstate 26 finished around Brevard Road. I hope to see a higher priority placed on that section of our roads getting completed, as it’s a major nuisance area for locals and visitors alike. It definitely affects staff, fosters and visitors coming into our Adoption Center, especially as Brevard Road gets just as backed up and little can be done to alleviate travel times in that area when that happens.” — Laila Johnston, donor relations director, Asheville Humane Society

How have your interactions with tourists changed in 2022?

“I honestly feel that my tie to the tourist market has gotten deeper in ways. There is a socially conscious tourist emerging out of the ‘common traffic,’ and I’m seeing an increase of Black, Indigenous and people of color travelers come and inquire on the work that is taking place.” — Bruce Waller, executive director, Black Wall Street AVL

“With the easing of restrictions on gathering and face coverings, I have noticed more smiles, greater energy and perhaps a bit of gratitude for simple things like having a beer together.” — Leah Wong Ashburn, president, Highland Brewing Co.

“I don’t interact with tourists much at work because I’m in the kitchen. I do pay attention to them when I walk to work. I have remarked several times to my co-workers that the tourists seem to be in much more pleasant moods this year overall. I’ve also heard the same from people who work directly with customers.” — Jen Hampton, organizer, Asheville Food and Beverage United

“Being a first-generation Ukrainian American, at the end of February, I started fundraising for Humanitarian Aid in Ukraine, in my studio and at various events. The conversations with tourists turned to the topic of Ukraine, people asking about my family in Ukraine, my fundraising efforts, people’s experiences in Eastern Europe and an emphasis on Ukraine and Ukrainian culture.” — Andrea Kulish, mixed-media artist

“I’ve always tried to be gracious to tourists visiting the area, and as I get older, I think I appreciate them even more. I now realize the importance to our local economy that those individuals bring. When I hear that someone is visiting our area, I like to find out where they are coming from and what brought them here. I now find myself offering up lots of suggestions for things to do.” — Chris Smith, interim executive director, Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission

What did the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority get right in 2022, and where is there room for improvement?

“2022 is the first full year that Explore Asheville applied a new set of strategic imperatives, which were crafted in alignment with broader community goals. We invested more than $1 million in marketing dollars with BIPOC-owned companies and platforms to engage and invite more diverse audiences. We also invested over $15.6 million in community projects this year, the largest annual investment since the establishment of the Tourism Product Development Fund 20 years ago. The selected projects serve the needs of both residents and visitors.” — Vic Isley, president and CEO, Explore Asheville

“I’m excited to see the Karen Cragnolin Park become a reality (cost: $360,000). But with $46 million in tax revenues, this is a drop in the bucket. The unelected TDA is the largest taxpayer slush fund in WNC, with no oversight or accountability. They gave $1.6 million to a golf course while our city struggles to address early childhood education, affordable housing and the opioid crisis. The county should stop collecting this tax until there is oversight.” — Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County Register of Deeds 

“It’s great to see that the TDA amended their financial policies. But I do think that our community vilifies them too much. Since I moved to Asheville in 2003, the value of downtown has grown from about $200 million to close to $2 billion today, yet we’ve seen less service in the downtown. The failure to serve our community isn’t the TDA’s job. The city has 10 times the money out of downtown and hasn’t kept up with investment.” — Joe Minicozzi, head of consulting firm Urban3 

“This year, the TDA’s budget soared to over $40 million while the number of our neighbors living on the streets doubled. The hotel industry is attempting to buy support via grants for Asheville’s business class, plus diversity washing and increases in infrastructure spending, but these self-serving ‘gifts’ are paid for with our money by an industry built on the exploitation of Black, Indigenous and working people. It’s past time to abolish the TDA and rethink tourism dependency.” — Libertie Valance, co-owner, Firestorm Books & Coffee

“This year, the BCTDA funded four important city of Asheville projects that meet the needs and wants of the community, supporting facilities and experiences that are valued by our residents. The BCTDA is at its best when it supports local residents, like 2020’s Buncombe County Tourism Jobs Recovery Act. I am hopeful that, in the future, more funding can be used in this way to assist our local tourism industry workers with affordable housing and transportation.” — Esther Manheimer, Asheville mayor

If you could subtract something from Asheville, what would it be?

“I’d remove the Craggy Dam and any other dams blocking free-flowing rivers to reconnect the community to rivers and support the adaptation needed for species to thrive.” — Erin McCombs, Southeast conservation director, American Rivers

“The expansion of I-26. We haven’t seen the worst of what is about to happen, and I would encourage everyone to look at the plans for what the N.C. Department of Transportation has in store for us. And ask serious questions of our local leaders and their failed courage when they had the opportunity to make effective change. Just wait until you see the new highway bridge over the river that will be about 18 lanes wide of concrete.” — Joe Minicozzi

“People who are rude to service industry workers. Many of us, including myself, began our careers waiting tables, working in kitchens or behind a bar. Beyond fulfilling essential roles in our society, service workers are the front lines of our community’s social network and deserve to be treated with respect by residents and visitors alike. If we strive to be a community in which everyone matters, it’s vital that we treat our service industry workers with care and kindness.” — Vic Isley

“The litter. Asheville is so naturally beautiful, I wish our city prioritized keeping our public spaces clean for everyone to use. The city can find the time to take down my positive signs — why can’t we pick up the trash?” — Elle Erickson, founder, The Booth Fairy


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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3 thoughts on “Year in Review: Development and tourism remain hot topics

  1. Taxpayer

    Please . Give us a break on Mike Sule. Not everyone is a fan and it’s becoming abhorrent how many of Asheville’s leaders have him right up their arses. How’s that going for you, Mayor?

  2. indy499

    I agree with Taxpayer. I’d subtract Sule and his band of bike zealots. The ultimate in elitism. A tiny fraction of the local population biikes at all and these alleged bike commuters are a myth. Screw the aged. Screw the disabled. Screw 99.9% for the entitled.

    Complete nonsense. What are the metrics for the big Merrimin “experiment”. How is it performing? Good luck finding out because if there were a published scorecard this thing would be dead.

  3. concerned citizen

    Wow, the Mountain Express catering to the TDA and mayor is sickening. Analyze this article and the participants for history’s sake. How is the media used to influence society. TDA members, mayor, city officials. Well done Edwin. Research the corruption of everyone in your article , not contribute to this shameful part of Asheville’s history. You are now part of it. Free the press and support independent journalism.

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