Connecting the dots

Connecting the dots seems to be a major concern for city officials of late. And while those of us out in the private sector often find it easy and enjoyable to poke fun at public figures, I suspect that, sometimes, it is not all that well-informed, pertinent or even kosher to do so. Public people have feelings, too.

Now, I’m not trying to stick up for the type of public figure we all abhor, who’s full of blustery self-importance and deaf to any commentary from “them” — the public he or she is supposed to serve. Yes, we have some of those right here in Asheville, or so I’m told, though honestly I have yet to meet any face to face.

On the contrary, as I’ve patrolled the halls of civil service in Asheville, I have come to one inescapable conclusion: We are lucky. Most, if not all, of our public servants seem to take their responsibilities more seriously than they take themselves.

I know this firsthand, because I’ve been talking with all manner of government officials lately in my efforts to create a conclusive solution for three major concerns we face today: what to do with the Civic Center, where and how to create a modern sports complex, and how to redesign the I-26/I-240 interchange crossing the river.

These are weighty matters, which must be resolved with ingenuity, purpose, wisdom and resolve — not the type of work reserved for sycophants, hangers-on or egomaniacs.

Mayor Worley likes to talk about “connectivity”: The solution must connect all the dots! And it must be affordable. And the money must come from secure sources. And the plans must make sense and be complete, with financing in place and written contracts and guarantees in hand. I see nothing frivolous or irresponsible in that. Do you?

I can’t speak for all the constituencies working to address these three challenges, but I can share my own take on how the issues are being considered.

There are many creative, responsible and well-meaning individuals at work here. And there are, understandably, opposing factions. One group wants to ensure that we keep sports in the city center. Another wants a symphony hall for music, opera and dance. Yet another wants to move sports across the river, to the SunSpree area behind Sam’s Club. As for me, I want to put the existing Civic Center to work for the artists whose collective efforts have helped make this city famous.

Sorry, folks, but tourists don’t come here only to admire our hills and the two hotels that anchor this city; a good number of them also come to see good theater (seven downtown stages, fed by countless local theater companies), hear to our music (everything from bluegrass and jazz to rock and country), and visit our many art galleries.

Asheville is the arts center of Western North Carolina, and to support that function, I propose moving sports across the river to the far more inviting and practical Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort area. (The property presently used for a golf course is for sale, and three parties are competing for purchase at this time.) That would clear the way for making the Civic Center a major arts & entertainment complex housing theater, music and the plastic arts. To make it pay for itself, we should add three restaurants, an IMAX Theatre, a multiscreen cineplex a hair salon, a costume shop, a health club, a deli, shops and studios where artists can work and create, as well as an 18-story high-rise office/apartment complex designed along the lines of the new Grove Arcade, which sits a mere city block away. Our brand new arts & entertainment center would also house an 800-seat theater for stage productions.

This interpretation of the mayor’s connectivity concept asks city residents to expand their understanding of “downtown” to encompass both sides of the river. Asheville has long styled itself “the Paris of the South,” so why not learn from that great city that straddles the famed River Seine by broadening our vision of our hometown to include both the new Arts & Entertainment Center (now the Civic Center) and the SunSpree Sports Campus & Convention Center (across the French Broad), linked by the state Department of Transportation’s option #2 for I-26/240. This is the plan we believe is most likely to be adopted because it seems to be the most popular and is clearly the least expensive option. Although this is ultimately a state matter, the DOT needs to know what we local citizens consider the best of the four proposals. I nominate #2 because it’s the only option that doesn’t decimate the SunSpree area.

Actually, possession will be in the hands of both the city (which will float the bond issue) and the corporation formed to run the project and pay for the bonds.

The Asheville Civic Redevelopment plan meshes nicely with the vision of another group that’s eagerly at work to provide this city with a beautiful new symphony/opera hall seating up to 2,000 people. (Those artists’ needs are uniquely different from the theater community’s.) And for the convenience of resident and visitor alike, we have also developed a plan for a continuous free shuttle service to tie all these facilities together which will pay for itself through advertising revenues.

I like that: connecting the dots by thinking outside the box!

[Captain Dave Linsley is president and CEO of the Asheville Civic Redevelopment Corporation, a non-profit enterprise.]

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