Asheville’s downtown history was up

In response to “Looking Out, Not Up” [Letters, April 23] and other recent letters criticizing City Council’s policy on development, I can only make the following observations.

Asheville’s unique geography—on a plateau divided by a wide river valley—destined the city to be the metropolis of Western North Carolina. If you want to stay small, I would suggest Burnsville.

I keep hearing “Charlotte in the mountains” [or] “Atlanta in the mountains”; however, this scenario is unlikely unless Bank of America or Coca-Cola move their corporate headquarters here. In reality, our relatively expensive housing and tough job market are our best defenses against an all-out growth explosion.

In response to concerns over the size of the hotels being planned: In the early 20th century, tourists in Asheville had an amazing choice of downtown accommodations, including two of the largest buildings in the city—the George Vanderbilt and Battery Park hotels. Had these not been, sadly, turned into HUD or assisted-living facilities in our down-and-out days, perhaps we could have avoided building new. Imagine a time when visitors and locals could enjoy what must be an outstanding view from the ballroom of the Battery Park, but sadly it is off-limits except to a vocal few who enjoy those sunsets while fighting to stop parking garages that would actually help the surrounding businesses. Talk about your gated communities. I certainly have nothing against the elderly; I am heading there myself. But you cannot live in one of the biggest buildings in a central business district and not expect change all around you.

As for possible damage to the Basilica due to construction, I should think if it survived the leveling of the adjacent mountain with the old Battery Park, I-240 and the Civic Center, a parking garage should be a cakewalk. If you want to talk preservation, how about restoring the mosaics under the copper domes?

Edwin Grove’s original plan for the Grove Arcade included a tower that would have been squarely in front of his hotel’s western view. His vision included the fact that good architecture can actually enhance views. What Ashevillean does not love Beaucatcher behind the pink-topped tower of City Hall?

Leaving a legacy is not a bad thing—after all, we would not have the Biltmore Estate, the Grove Arcade and City Hall without the legacy-building likes of George Vanderbilt, Edwin Grove and Douglas Ellington. I cheer Tony Fraga and his ambition to recreate the tower of the Grove Arcade into a new Haywood Park Hotel, as well as [cheer the] Grove Park Inn and The Ellington. To have two neo-deco hotels anchoring our skyline will be extremely cool.

As for Mr. Majors’ suggestion of building a two-story structure instead, that horse has been out of the barn since the ‘20s, when most of our beautiful, tall buildings were built. Up is way better than out.

— Steve Woolum

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