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.