Citizens saved downtown Asheville

PEOPLE POWER: Asheville-area residents organized and stopped a project that would have decimated much of the downtown. One day in the multi-month opposition, citizens "wrapped" the project boundary to demonstrate what buildings would be destroyed by the project. Photo by R. Anne Martin, courtesy of of the N.C. Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library

I’ve always thought that the turning point for Asheville, especially downtown, was when the downtown Strouse-Greenberg mall project was voted down in November 1981.

An outside developer proposed to tear down 11 blocks in downtown, basically from Broadway west, College north to Interstate 240 (see map) and build a downtown shopping mall. The plan had the support of all the business leaders, including even some downtown merchants, the Citizen-Times, WLOS-TV, City Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

A vote approving the project was required and an ad hoc citizens group organized to oppose it. The proposal was to defeated by a 2-to-1 majority and, in its wake, the revitalization of downtown got started.

This was the first time that an organized citizens group had challenged local leaders and the first time that there was general agreement that downtown was special and worth protecting.

An amazing group of energetic, visionary and creative people seized the opportunity to turn downtown into what it is today. There was a spirit downtown, and Green Line/Mountain Xpress captured that spirit.

Ed Hay is a lawyer practicing in downtown Asheville since 1976. He served on Asheville City Council from 1996 until 2001, including a term as vice mayor.

In the map, right, light gray indicates the proposed development boundary, and dark gray indicates the mall building.
In the map, right, light gray indicates the proposed development boundary, and dark gray indicates the mall building.








Wrap - Shoes
Citizens opposed to the proposed mall staged a “wrap” project to visually demonstrate the boundaries of the project. Photo by R. Anne Martin, courtesy of of the N.C. Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library
Wrap - Beanstreets
Here, the “wrap” rounds the corner at Broadway and College Street, demonstrating that all buildings behind this boundary would be leveled. This corner would, in the ’90s, house Beanstreets Coffee, and currently houses Green Sage Cafe. Photo by R. Anne Martin, courtesy of of the N.C. Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library

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2 thoughts on “Citizens saved downtown Asheville

  1. Don Kostelec

    If only the same type of energy can be organized around I-240 through West Asheville and the Bowen Bridge. It’s the equivalent of a shopping mall because of the impacts it will have on downtown, the city and neighborhoods. The Chamber, businesses and elected officials are also in favor of these highway widening projects that will remove acres of taxable land from the city’s property tax base. If the City can’t grow its boundaries due to actions by the General Assembly, then every acre of private property is precious in order to avoid raising taxes on city residents.

  2. Grant Millin

    In 1980 my family moved here from California and invested in this community, mainly through our efforts with T.S. Morrison & Co, Founded in 1895 this hardware store and later gift/general store was the oldest continuously operating retail store. Store founder Theodore Summey Morrison is buried at Riverside Cemetery among other Asheville historical figures.

    I remember meeting Tom and Jim Morrison and all the work we put that store. The back of the store still had coal in the coal bins and there was MASSIVE amounts of obsolete farm equipment and other unneeded material in the top two floors. Before the Navy selling, stocking, and cleaning up this piece of Asheville’s history was my first job. Former council woman Robin Cape and her husband at the time sold antiques on the second floor later. Climbing a third floor ladder and checking out the roof view of Asheville was just one of the cool things about the place.

    It’s not true that downtown was “boarded up” between 1980 and the mid-90’s when Julian Price came on the scene. There were many entrepreneur’s up and down Lexington Ave. and popping up along Patton, Haywood, College and all over town. It’s hard to capture ’Total History’ but this town is where its at based on the efforts of a great many individuals. Obviously the period between the Great Depression and 1980 wasn’t a renaissance for Asheville. But the cancellation of the downtown mall program was an opportunity many folks took on.

    Iris Photographics, Gatsby’s, and the Movable Feast were other Lexington/Walnut are businesses around this time. Stone Soup moved downtown from the Manor Inn later in the 80’s at the current Mellow Mushroom location. A lot happened in the 80’s despite the terrible Reaganomics environment.

    When I read the following C-T story concerning the final T.S. Morrison owner’s decision to sell off all the stock and historical accoutrements I called the historical preservation society seeking an intervention. I suggested T.S. Morrison & Co. become the WNC Heritage Museum. This would have included the UNCA Diversity Education Center’s research and displays on WNC slavery and other evidence of apartheid since. Perfect… but “no money for historical preservation” was the word I got.

    As a GroWNC consortium member I saw a suggestion for a similar museum idea in the GroWNC strategies.

    People loved coming into T.S. Morrison & Co. and usually loved working there. It had a vital vibe when I walked in the first time, despite the coal dusted tin ceiling and ancient, totally non-corporate big box home improvement customer experience. It was a new T.S. Morrison & Co. by time my parents sold the place, but we did our best to honor this place.

    Some thought’s from a former employee:

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