Letter: Asheville needs new music hall for symphony and more

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[Regarding “Time for a Makeover: Artists and Promoters Point Out Shortcomings of Asheville’s Auditorium,” Sept. 13, Xpress:]

From your article (and thanks) and personal experiences of Asheville Symphony Orchestra performances at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and with professional understanding of performance and acoustical performance facilities, and acoustics for activities such as symphony and choral performance: The TWA wasn’t, isn’t and will never be a first-class and deserving facility for ASO performances, no matter the extent of dollars and renovation.

The ASO in a new and specifically designed “shoe box” music hall would be best for ASO, other local and visiting acoustical music performances, recording of performance groups, the downtown and general Asheville culture and economy. There are good locations, some able to be designed with high-market-valued real estate [surrounding it] to assist in financially supporting the cost of a new ASO, plus facility. Also, this would take a huge reduced budget burden off the TWA renovation. Why not?

I have been a national project architect for 60 years, living and with an office in Asheville for 33 years, and weary of the TWA renovation debate and no first-class successful ASO facility accomplishment.

— Crawford Murphy


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11 thoughts on “Letter: Asheville needs new music hall for symphony and more

  1. Mike Rains

    Asheville “needs” a lot of things. Like an updated and reliable water system. Like higher salaries to refill our police department. Like a larger budget for the dead and hazard tree removal (currently over a 2 year backlog). These are all critical public health and safety functions run on shoestring budgets. I could go on and on.

    The root cause of all of these shortages is that Asheville lacks an adequate tax base to support the needs of a major city. Asheville lacks an adquate tax base because way back in 1933, and for various and sundry reasons valid at the time, the Sullivan Act essentially blocked Asheville from expanding it geographical borders (like every other city) and thus it’s tax base.

    So in Asheville/Buncombe County, the county has the lion’s share of property (and sales tax) revenue (including from Asheville residents who don’t receive benefits from some of those county taxrs) and Asheville plays second fiddle. This is the exact opposite of EVERY OTHER medium-to-large city in the state of NC (and eleswhere).

    But Asheville continues to try and “play” a major city role even though it doesn’t have the funds. Things like the Civic Center, the Nature Museum, Memorial Stadium/Tourists, Aston Park Tennis, a new deparment to “fix” the homeless problem (which doesn’t exist in the county by the way), an Urban Forester (even though the City Arborist is grossly underfunded for unsafe tree removal), and various nice-to-have positions/deparments (Equity, Sustainability, etc.) that we really can’t afford but do so anyway because every other big city does.

    This is why Asheville has, and will continue, to struggle with funding necessary functions. And it will only get worse, because the vast majority of development will continue to occur in the county where property taxes are less than half of city residents and where all the developable land exists.

    The ROOT CAUSE of Asheville’s poor infrastructure and poor essential service support is a constrained property tax base (geographical NOT tax rate). Buncombe County does not have this problem and in all fairness, needs to so recognize this dilema and step up to financially support Asheville in significant and ongoing ways.

    They may claim they already do this, but I can assure you it is to a very limited extent. For example, the County contributed $250K/year for the Tourist/Memorial Stadium improvements. Asheville contributed $1M/year. Statistics show that almost half of the Tourist attendees are from the County. The County provides NO financial support for the Nature Center which Asheville funds annually for over $1.5M. I would hazard a guess that every youngster that lives in the County has visitied this center numerous times on school trips. Yet no funding from the County to support this asset.

    Additionally, Asheville city residents pay county taxes to support the County Sheriff function. My analysis of that budget shows that at least $6M is due back to Asheville becasue we’re paying for purely county functions of the Sheriff (e.g., county patrols, animal services, Fire Marsall, to name a few) and for which we have to pay Asheville taxes for the exact same function here in the city!

    Address the root cause of our problem.

    • indy499

      I’ve never understood why the city doesn’t tell the county we are getting out of the policing business. You can now provide the same police service that you provide to all unicorporated residents. All county residents pay the same taxes.

    • NFB

      As I understand it while city residents pay full county taxes, the county does reimburse the city for the cost of services that are considered duplicate such as the law enforcement aspect of the sheriff’s office. I don’t know if this is still the case or if the amount is in the full amount though.

      The idea of consolidation of city and county gets floated every now and then but tends to not get a lot of traction (there have been referendums in the past that have rejected the idea) due to the notion that this would result in a likely increase in taxes paid by county residents.

      • Mike Rains

        The county did reimburse the City for Sheriff costs back when the Buncombe Asheville Water Authority existed (1990’s). The county also took over the Civic Center, Nature Center and Aston Tennis Courts and funded those faciilities.

        All that went away when Asheville pulled out of that Authority and decided it would run the water system by itself.

        And that is another huge financial support lacking from the County. County residents receiving Asheville water get one hell of a deal as the residential rates have to be the same througout the entire system (Sullivan Act). Guess where the most expensive part of the water system exists? The county…..much lower customer density and all sorts of tanks and pumps for the elevation differences. So essentially, Asheville water customers are signficantly subsidizing county water users in a big way.

        • NFB

          Thank you for the clarification on reimbursements.

          The Civic Center is owned and run by the city, however, not the county.

          Unfortunately the Sullivan Act(s) would requite the state legislature to revoke as the courts have upheld them. That’s not happening anytime soon given the disdain so many in the General Assembly have towards Asheville.

        • Curious

          Mr. Rains, you appear to be very well-informed and insightful on these issues. You were a source for an Asheville Watchdog article, so that gives credibility. I’m genuinely curious as to what ordinary citizens can do? What actions can we take? What actions can we urge on our elected officials that will have a chance of gaining their support?

  2. joelharder

    Our water system will NOT support the local population in 10 years, according to signed documents by our local public servants submitted to our state water oversight department. Look this up yourselves and stay informed. The same report states a lot of decisions have not been made and the funding has not been secured for future phases of the project.

    I believe we need to focus on strengthening the local workforce, addressing behavioral health crisis, expanding broadband access, improving housing affordability and building prosperous communities for the next generation (not just the old and rich folks). We need young folks to be able to live and thrive here.

  3. Karin Hedberg

    This article is about a performing arts venue, not the water system. Yes, the city needs to deal with the water system, but that can be discussed in another forum. A performing arts center can be largely privately funded, with little or no public money. There is a lot of wealth in the area, and I would guess that many would contribute to the creation of such a place. Asheville doesn’t have to be “large” to have a quality venue. I agree with the writer that we are putting too much focus on the City to solve the problem of the TWA and not enough on the community that can develop something new and state-of-the-art. Let’s get busy!

    • Mike Rains

      I’d like to think you’re correct that a performing arts center can be largely privately funded, but I have my doubts. Although a different type of venue, there was no private money offered for the Tourists/Memorial Stadium upgrade, except of course from the owner and they stand to benefit financially. And the county did pitch in a meager $250K/year while Asheville will pay out $1M/year + other funding.

      The reason the Asheville water system rightly enters the discussion, along with other infrastructure needs, is because Asheville doesn’t have the tax base to support all of these things meaningfully with its limited tax base. So unless Buncombe County steps up in a meaningful way to support this and other high dollar projects, I don’t see where the money is going to come from. As an Asheville taxpayer, I certainly wouldn’t vote for a $100-150M bond for this “nice-to-have” project knowing all the other things neediing funding in our city. And particularly when a large number of beneficiaries (attendees) don’t even live in the city proper.

      Basically, as an Asheville and County taxpayer, I’m getting tired of subsidizing the rest of the county for nice-to-have features when we can’t even support our basic needs in the city.

    • North Asheville

      ” There is a lot of wealth in the area, and I would guess that many would contribute to the creation of such a place. ”
      Private groups have tried for years to raise money for a performing arts venue. Many hundreds of thousands of dollars raised and spent on study after study and to pay salaries. Money wasted. Donors will not give to this type of venture again. https://arca-design.com/portfolio/asheville-performance-center/

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