Letter writer: Reality check needed in debate over city-owned lot

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Congratulations to the writers of many letters expressing their desire to create a park near the Basilica of St. Lawrence; they are passionate and persistent. They fear anything other than a park.

What is lacking is a reality check on the situation. But first, allow me to stipulate two things: (1) I like parks ― I view them and use them and appreciate them in all their majesty; and (2) I really like the basilica ― it’s beautiful and significant, and I’ve toured it inside and out.

Now for the reality. The basilica is located directly across Flint Street from the U.S. Cellular Center, an important multipurpose facility that was built in 1974 in a style that might be called mountain contemporary. OK, I’m being charitable, but the architects had to encompass the old Municipal Auditorium into the complex, so it had to be difficult to design and build.

The result is that the basilica is less than 100 feet from an incredibly different kind of structure, and a really big one at that, and it still manages to more than hold its own.

The basilica is also immediately adjacent to Interstate 240, where about 70,000 vehicles per day roll by with their accompanying noise, vibration and air pollution. And yet the basilica survives.

And to the west and southwest are less-than-lovely surface parking lots that are not owned by the city of Asheville, but rather by the Basilica of St. Lawrence, that are used commercially to raise funds for the parish: $65/month, $30/week or $10/day.

My conclusion: No matter what City Council decides to do with the city-owned property to the south, the basilica will survive and probably flourish. It would be nice if a solution could be found that would create an income-producing land use on the property that benefits the civic center, has an open space element and respects the basilica’s unique design.

How about a city-sponsored design competition to get the juices flowing?

― Paul B. Kelman
Asheville

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15 thoughts on “Letter writer: Reality check needed in debate over city-owned lot

    • The Real World

      At the risk of being repetitive to some (I’ve posted this idea previously), let me state that that lot is just begging for consideration as an elevated park. These types of parks are not a new concept. Just for starters, see here: http://untappedcities.com/2013/12/04/10-plans-for-elevated-high-line-parks-around-the-world-petite-ceinture-bloomingdale-trail-reading-viaduct/

      Many of the parks featured are much larger but, no matter, the point is that there is existing expertise about how to create these. The lot in AVL has significant elevation and could include commercial structures on the lower Haywood side, just going up just 1 or 2 stories, with a park on top primarily accessed from the Page Ave side. It could be a private/public partnership with a developer leasing the underlying lot from the city and constructing the building (for office, restaurant/shops, etc) while the city pays to create and maintain the park above. That particular lot is asking for a creative, MULTI-PURPOSE solution.

      How is this idea not a win-win?

      • Curious

        Has the Asheville Design Center weighed in with a proposal for this space?

  1. bsummers

    ATLANTA, Ga. — Paul B. Kelman has announced his plans to retire from his position as executive vice president of Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID) effective July 16th, concluding 22 years with Atlanta’s preeminent community development organization.

    Kelman said he’s enjoyed his role in the successful redevelopment of the city center, but that “the timing is right” for him to leave.

    “For starters, I’m going to play more tennis, and spend time at my vacation home in Asheville,” said Kelman. “I’m also looking forward to spending more time with my family, especially my grandchildren.”
    http://www.atlantadowntown.com/article/central-atlanta-progress-executive-vice-president-announces-retirement-plans

    With all due respect, I personally don’t want to see downtown Asheville wind up looking like Atlanta.

    • Gary W

      Please explain the correlation of his retirement 5 years ago (July 16th 2010) and him wanting to spend more time as his vacation home, with your desire for downtown Asheville not to resemble Atlanta’s. That’s a little bit of a stretch don’t you think?

      • bsummers

        Wasn’t pointing to the date of his retirement, or that he has/had a vacation home here, so much as I was pointing at his professional career of developing a downtown that feels like a giant canyon populated by tourists.

        • Peter Robbins

          Is there something specific about the letter writer’s past work that you object to? His suggestion does not sound outlandish to me.

          • bsummers

            Would’ve thought that was obvious. To whatever degree he’s looking at it through the lens of his past work, the urban planning aesthetic of downtown Atlanta (which he helped develop and promote for 20+ years), is just not appropriate for Asheville,

            In my opinion.

  2. Newcomers like the letter writer don’t recall when the view of the Basilica was substantially blocked by a very ugly commercial building. Those of us who have been here for decades know how much more attractive the view of the church is since that demolition.

    The idea for a design contest is great, or pubic meetings to solicit citizen input. But City staff is already marketing the property and intends to move forward in January. That is the crux of the matter.

    • Gary W

      By definition, is this the epitome of the no compromise approach? All park or nothing?

      spe·cial in·ter·est
      noun
      plural noun: special interest groups
      a group of people or an organization seeking or receiving special advantages, typically through political lobbying.

      Asheville we can do so much better than this.

      • Yeah Gary, but special interest usually implies that the special interest is interested in getting some specific advantage. Say, funding, for example. What we’re pushing for is general interest – a civic space for everyone to use. It’s not like any of us are going to have some special benefit.

        • Gary W

          I can appreciate the general interest, however it is not that general if we cannot come to a compromise. The park only option is very specific to the desires of a group and is disconcerting to me. As a city tax payer, it is a special interest if this group wish for me to pay for just a park. There has to be balance. Our taxes were just raised, so how can we afford such a luxury? A civic space that does not fall squarely on the shoulders of the tax payers and generates revenue, just seem like an ideal scenario for me. This can be a such an opportunity for a successful public / private partnership. It just seems like we’re governing by popularity and not what’s in best interest for the city as a whole.

        • David Smith

          I saw a flyer of what the city is marketing. The architectural rendering is of a gawd-ugly building, tall and massive, apparently built out to the maximum square footage, that makes the Basilica look like a toy building. Despite all of the mayor’s and council’s sanctimonious talk about the value of neighborhoods, they’re willing to sell the soul of downtown to the highest, crummiest bidder without a second thought.

          • hauntedheadnc

            Out of curiosity, how would the construction of a tall building be, in any way, selling the soul of downtown? I ask only because tall buildings are nothing new. We built quite a few of them all over downtown about ninety years ago, in fact. One of those, the Battery Park Apartments stands not a block from the basilica. Others, including the old JC Penney building, the Flat Iron Building, and the Public Service Building, among others, are not far away.

          • OneWhoKnows

            the city is not marketing anything at this time…they had the perfect buyer 3 years ago, but power mongers
            kept it from happening…council people can be extremely EVIL, mark my words…

            anyway, we are supposed to be thrilled with the new slate of six ALL progressives being tapped to run for City Council! THIS is a CLEAR SIGNAL TO ALL LANDLORDS that NOW is the time to think NEXT YEARS RENT HIKES to cover what are sure to be higher TAXES and FEES to feed the power control progressives who will further exploit us with BIGGER and BIGGER government! See how this works? (we get all the renters to vote for us and they won’t know it means increased rents cause they’re stupid…) (a non revenue producing ‘park’ downtown means higher rents, too. duh.)

            SKYROCKETING RENTS MAKES the WORLD GO ROUND ! Yay!

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