Letter: Why locals get ‘emotional’ about Asheville’s changes

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Tourism Development Authority President and Explore Asheville CEO Vic Isley has a lot of gall reducing the criticisms toward the TDA to just emotional reactions [“Looking Ahead: TDA President Vic Isley Plans to go Full Speed Ahead in Promoting Tourism,” March 20, Xpress]. She’s sure got her hands in deep in the tourist-trade money pot in her three short years living here. What does she know of the changes locals have seen in the city they have loved and lived in or nearby for decades? Where does she think those emotions rise from?

I have lived in surrounding areas of Asheville since 1983. Asheville was pretty run-down back then. But it always had a sense of community, creativity and innovation. Indeed, entrepreneurs turned the downtown around. The River Arts District was started by artists setting up studios in abandoned old buildings and warehouses. Now they are forced out by ever-increasing rent.

Can you imagine that in 1983, I commuted from Black Mountain to West Asheville to my job, and there was no rush-hour traffic?! That’s right. Today it’s a daily crawl on Interstate 240. Didn’t exist back then.

But I watched this little city that I loved transform by the spending of millions on tourism and catering to all things tourist-oriented. So many hotels. Expensive food and boutiques (since rent is astronomical). Back in the day, we had Stone Soup. And funky little shops. It was still affordable. There were great buskers. Those dressed-up human statues, jugglers, musicians. Street art. Mostly gone now.

Now I can’t even stand to try to drive in Asheville. The traffic gets gridlocked.

I see wheelchair users on South French Broad have to use the street because the sidewalks are a mess and have been for years. But wherever the tourists go, it’s all swanky and nice! New sidewalks! They just may have to step over a homeless person here and there. Last time I was downtown, however, it looked like the homeless had been pushed out, too. Tourists fill restaurants to overflowing so that locals can’t even eat out. Some thoughtful restaurants/bars started to serve locals only.

So yeah, Ms. Isley is smiling all the way to the bank while she justifies the very fact that the cost of living and gentrification keep soaring in Asheville, while the tourism-related service-jobs paycheck that workers get pretty much blows. And she’s going to justify how even more is better! Reeks of greed.

Yeah, you bet we are emotional. We are pissed.

— Troy Amastar


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

17 thoughts on “Letter: Why locals get ‘emotional’ about Asheville’s changes

  1. Michael Hopping

    Having parachuted into Asheville in 1982 myself, I have to say that I find myself agreeing with Mr. Amastar. Like him, I now avoid venturing into or through what’s left of a city being loved to death. If I must go, it’s in the morning or in the early evening. But then, I’m no great loss to what’s become a tourist trap.

    • Lisa

      Wonder if the letter writer read the entire article or just got riled up over on instagram? Looks like MountainX took the clickbait headline of the article referenced and put it on steroids over on social media.
      From the actual article:
      “Going back to the listening sessions, one person said, ‘There is a lot of emotion tied up in this because intellectually we get that tourism is important for our community, but emotionally we don’t want to.’ I think that is a pretty interesting way to sum it up,” Isley says. “That is not to say we are perfect, and we really are working on how we can be community partners and how we can have those longer-ranging conversations with our other government partners, with our business partners and with our nonprofit partners.”

  2. Voirdire

    ditto for me.. 1983 arrived in Asheville. Totally different place/ town then of course. Some things are better now… mostly not though ( ..starting with the traffic and the catering/ cratering to mass tourism). But I’m not angry or wistful about it …it is what it is. Honestly, I could see it coming way back in 1983… just too nice of a place for folks not to relocate to (…and tourists to flock too as well, sigh). As for Ms. Isley and the TDA… it’s what happens when MAGA republicans -or any politicians of any persuation for that matter- get hold of public tax money. It’s the inevitable cronyism and corruption ( yes, corruption…. you read that correctly… dressed up as forward thinking altrusim of course) that always follows the money. That’s the real tragedy of Asheville.

    • Think about it

      The far left progressives aren’t doing Asheville any favors either.

      • Enlightened Enigma

        And THEY are the very ones who have succeeded in formal legal destruction of the ‘monument’ because of a slave owner Vance, yet they REFUSE to talk about changing the name of the City, named for a slave owner, Ashe. How hypocritical can these females BE ?
        WHY should we live in this shamefully named place? Right?

    • gapple

      So MAGA republicans destroyed your run down failing town? Believe it started way before MAGA…….

  3. jenie

    Amidst the beauty of the Blue Ridge’s domain,
    A cry for freedom, a plea for refrain,
    Systemically silenced, our voices unheard, By greed-driven hands and transplants absurd.
    Enough with the tourists, enough with the greed, Enough with the politicians who take and impede,
    The soul of this land, its essence denied, By those who see profit as the only guide.
    Vic Isley and his ilk, transplants without care, Eroding our mountains, our heritage rare,
    We’ve had our fill of this tourist parade, Our culture, our identity, continually betrayed.
    It’s time for the people of the Blue Ridge to rise,
    To reclaim their voice, to confront the lies,
    Enough of this madness, enough of this plight, It’s time to stand strong, to reclaim what’s right
    .Let’s halt the development, let nature thrive,
    Let’s preserve our home, let our heritage survive,
    No more silenced cries, no more stolen lands,
    It’s time for the Blue Ridge to take a stand.Against tourism’s onslaught, against greed’s grasp, We’ll protect our mountains, our enduring clasp,
    So rise, Blue Ridge people with courage and might, For our future, our heritage, we’ll continue to fight.

    • James

      Nice poem, even with the overuse of meringue words like ‘heritage’ and ‘culture’.
      Vic Isley is a she.

  4. Bright

    Isley is trying to do Her best for Asheville…might have to kill the city in order to do so…then it can be rebuilt in Her own image.

  5. James Taxpayer

    They are responsible for supporting about 20% of the local economy and at least in part because of that promotion. creatives in our community make a living. Go ask an art gallery owner downtown or artist in the RAD where the majority of their sales come from. Most of visitor spending in the city and county is outside of lodging.

    “The TDA will stick to its four strategic imperatives that guide the organization’s decisions and planning: delivering balanced and sustainable growth; encouraging safe and responsible travel; engaging and inviting more diverse audiences; and promoting and supporting Asheville’s creative spirit.”

    Tourism has saved this town’s economy multiple times in the last 200 years. And I also agree we need to diversify our economy at the same time, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of tourism. Tourism generates 20% of Buncombe County’s local economy and generates 20% of city and county government revenues annually from property tax, sales tax and fees for public services for us residents. That seems fair.

    The TDA has committed $86 million in occupancy tax to community projects. 79% of that has gone to city or county owned projects. Unfortunately the city and the county have given the business community, including tourism, reason not to trust them to manage money properly. Do you remember the AB-Tech sales tax fiasco?

    For a town that presumes to be open and tolerant, it sure does create scapegoats and conflict more than real forums for understanding and progress. Our community needs much more civil discourse.

  6. Chris Hancock

    I’m always amazed how much people like Ms Isley make compared to most local people. Look it up. Salary starts a $300,000 per year and can go as high as $456,000 with bonuses. The contract must have been approved by our City Council.

    • James

      It is always the same old tired song. There are many, many local residents that make a good living here in our community. The annual median income for accommodation and food service was just under $40k for Buncombe County in 2022, and that includes many part time jobs for our young residents.
      I’m not going to drop links here and do to other leaders in this community what AWD did to the TDA CEO. A recent public article stated that the new UNCA Chancellor’s base salary is $300k and could make as much as twice that amount if she achieves certain performance markers. There is a nonprofit CEO managing 1/10 of the TDA budget that makes the same base.

      TDA CEO’s base salary is now $300k, and has the opportunity to earn an incentive that is not guaranteed. The number Watchdog knowingly pulled was including a retention bonus that would only paid out on a third year of employment, but left the impression on readers it was part of annual compensation, then added all potential earnings including incentive, retirement, etc, which they did not do for any other position they outlined in the article, nor did they research comps for similar sized tourism communities. Here’s just one: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/580417930Her salary is in line with other CVB CEOs and nonprofit heads in Asheville. A simple search of 990s shows that.

      • Voirdire

        my dog could dispense largesse as well as Isley for, well, food and shelter and a little love. Nor would she need to fly off the Caribbean or wherever every other weekend and schmooze with “influencers”. Oh, and btw… being the Chancellor of a university is a real job that requires real work. Time to get real here.

        • Mike

          I hear what you are saying, but this is not Ms. Isley’s problem or fault. I don’t know anybody who would tell their employer “please pay me less money,” unless they needed to in order to keep their job/ keep the business open- which is not the case here.

  7. WNC

    I could go for 20 % less
    Home prices

    All the extra property taxes and Buncombe county has budget problems.

  8. Robert

    Ultimately, the pushback from locals, whether ’emotional’ or driven by ‘data’ (the lowest and least informative form of information in the business intelligence realm), is likely coming from valid concerns about just how many visitors are coming this year, next year, and ten or twenty years from now. How much exponential growth can we withstand without diminishing quality of life for full-time resident taxpayers? How much unchecked growth before the entire tourism house of cards comes tumbling down due upon itself to its popularity or ‘success’? And yes, we the people acknowledge that tourism dollars contribute mightily to many area projects that enhance the area for some. It would be nice if more room tax money could go to infrastructure to benefit all. If tourism is to Asheville what oil is to Dubai, then we who live here should reap a great deal more and pay lower taxes and have free parking and perhaps the occasional free fancy meal and our own denim shirts. (Then those who begrudge Ms. Isley her salary would likely be her biggest fans.)

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.