When did the Asheville Civic Center become the city jail? That was the question on my mind and the minds of three other “prisoners” during intermission at the [recent] Crosby and Nash concert at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.
Our crime? We went upstairs in the lobby to use the public restroom facilities. There were no signs or gates to indicate that we were not allowed to use the upstairs restrooms, which we had all used before without incident.
However, on our way back to the lobby, we found our way barred by a large, locked gate. We could neither return to the auditorium nor leave the Civic Center. A fellow concert attendee on the other side of the gate said that he had told the usher who closed and locked [it] that there were people upstairs using the restroom, and her response was “I don’t care.”
I finally started yelling “help,” because despite the fact [that] there were several ushers, patrons and a security guard in plain view in the downstairs lobby, no one seemed to realize that we were locked in. One of the ushers came upstairs and asked us how we had gotten on the wrong side of the locked gate. [When] we explained, she turned around and vanished through the doorway—presumably to find the person with the keys.
At least 10 more minutes went by before one of the ushers who had been laughing and talking with the security guard slowly started upstairs. [I]ntermission was long over, and the concert was back in full swing. One of the people with me said, “It’s about time.” When the usher heard that, she said, “I didn’t just hear you say that,” [and] turned around and went back down the stairs.
There was an open office with a phone on the upstairs landing, and one of my companions [then] used [it] to call 911. Finally, the usher with the keys returned and unlocked the gate, followed by a medic. They both started … telling us that we had no right to be there. No one on the Civic Center staff apologized or offered any explanation as to why they kept us behind a locked gate for over 15 minutes.
I’ve attended events at the Civic Center since I was 12 and received mostly courteous service … . This, however, made me never want to return. I was frightened, upset and ultimately enraged. [This] was not only … abysmal customer service, but [it] also raises health and safety concerns. What if there had been a fire or other emergency? What if one of my companions had a health condition that required immediate medical assistance? We yelled for help and were ignored by Center staff for enough time for someone to have suffered a stroke or heart attack.
Thank goodness there wasn’t an emergency. As it was, the experience of being locked away without explanation, ignored, lectured and missing part of a concert I paid to attend is not one I plan to repeat anytime soon.
— Karen Nilsen
Dan Dover, the interim Civic Center director, responds: Customer service is very important to us, and we’re disappointed anytime we fall short. We appreciate this customer’s patronage over the years; we regret that she had an unpleasant experience recently at the Civic Center. As soon as we can [communicate], we look forward to working with her to resolve the matter. The Civic Center staff is using this experience as a teaching and learning experience. In addition, we are now taking steps to physically close off any areas of the Civic Center that are not intended to be open to the public during a specific event, so that a misunderstanding like this does not occur again.