asheville_skyline_1_2015Update Jan. 12: Jake Frankel at the Mountain Xpress reports that in a Jan. 9 television appearance, Frommer “changed her tune, crediting artists for making the River Arts District vibrant.”

Update Jan. 6: Jake Frankel at the Mountain Xpress talked to Pauline Frommer, who speaks to the recent controversy over her remarks regarding Asheville. Not sure how to describe it – sort of an apology?

Original post Jan. 3: Tourism can rip at the fabric of a community. Asheville residents got a harsh reminder of that last week, when the editorial director of a well-known, national travel guide described, in gross error, the changes happening in and around the city’s popular River Arts District.

During a New Year’s Day appearance on Good Morning America, Pauline Frommer of Frommer’s travel guide named Asheville a top destination for travelers in 2015. In so doing, Frommer told a national viewing audience that one of the reasons her organization was picking Asheville was “because the sketchy riverside area has been totally redone thanks to the New Belgium Brewery, which has poured millions of dollars into this area, making new parks, artists collectives, farmers markets, bike paths. It’s just a great place to go. It has the most breweries per capita, so always a party.”


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Frommer’s statement was simply wrong. New Belgium’s brewery remains a work in progress. Its opening is a year away. New Belgium’s presence is certainly accelerating the development of amenities in the area, but changes along the stretch of the French Broad River near the New Belgium Brewery site on Craven Street have been happening for decades. Artists, small business owners and nonprofits have brought creative life, commerce and environmental clean-up. New Belgium is just the latest industrial resident in a long line of big mills, tanneries, livestock markets and junk yards that have populated the riverside. (New Belgium’s new brewery is in West Asheville, across the river from the River Arts District, which has its own separate geography.)

The Frommer’s error comes as visitors to Asheville are arriving in droves. Asheville’s tourism bureau announced last year that hotel occupancy rates hit record highs in fall 2014. Signs point to the upswing continuing. Low gas prices are forecast to continue, and there’s an increased national awareness. Asheville attractions were spotlighted on more than two dozen national best-of lists, the most ever according to the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, which has tracked such mentions since 2000. Tourism officials estimate New Belgium’s brewery will attract 1 million visitors a year to its site.

All those visitors are critical to the Asheville economy. The tourism industry supports 23,000 jobs in Buncombe County, with tourists spending $1.5 billion in the county, according to a 2012 study.

But the mistake in describing Asheville’s ascendance also comes as many residents worry about the lack of good-paying jobs, low wages and the high cost of housing. Change is happening quickly across the city, and residents are being left behind. The economic recovery has not buoyed everyone, and many of those who work in service of the tourists remain underpaid and undervalued.

In a deeper sense, the blunder pulls apart Asheville community. It obscures the story of Asheville in a way that rubs out its history and its legacy. It disrespects those who have given the city the soul and authenticity so many tourism officials and marketers are hawking to visitors. It creates rifts at a time when those who care about the heart of the city should be coming together to protect it.

Calling the area in and around the River Arts District “sketchy” and “forbidding,” as Frommer’s does, may have been true at some point in the past (depending on how you define those descriptors). But the area’s been inviting for a long time. It’s certainly been a face Asheville has put forward and marketed for years. Why is it such a bad thing now?

Residents must keep telling Asheville’s true story. We must keep educating enquiring visitors, who in my experience are interested in hearing it, no matter what lies were told to lure them. We must not lose hold of our community, because as long as our economy relies on tourism, the pressure will always be there to keep coming up with new pitches that can distort and ultimately destroy what made us unique in the first place.

Like the “We Still Pray” and “We Still Read” and “We Still Lay” bumper sticker slogans of Asheville past, it may be time for a new one: “We Still Sketchy.”

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73 Comments

  1. Jason, beautifully said. Residents, especially those of us who were born here, are dismayed every time someone takes credit for this having been a “sketchy” place before all the newcomers found and “rescued” us. The RAD, like every other urban industrial complex, has waxed and wained. During my growing up years, it was a thriving business district with the ice house, train depot, and Dave Steel. In no way was the entire downtown ever entirely boarded up, or the RAD as sketchy as all that.

  2. Jennifer Saylor says:

    Asheville Citizen-Times, 8 days after you with a similar take that in my opinion pales in comparison to your opinion above. I just see too many Answer Mans that follow Ashvegas’ lead a few clicks behind. http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2015/01/10/river-arts-district-sketchy-hope/21570203/

  3. The “travel writers” dirty little secret. A lot of them DON’T go to where they’re writing about. They depend on what they can google and sometimes on the Convention and Visitors Centers (CVCs).

  4. We don’t need anymore publicity, people are never going to stop coming to Asheville to admire the mountains and the beauty, the quirkiness.The RAD is not sketchy, it’s where many folks make their homes, their living, it’s an insult. Where are you really from? Obviously not Asheville.

  5. Frommer responds to criticism of ‘Good Morning America’ interview about Asheville
    MX

    Pauline Frommer says the TV segment was a matter of good intentions gone awry: “Doing live TV is difficult and I, unfortunately, accidentally conflated some developments,” says Frommer, who serves as the popular travel guide’s editorial director. “I never meant to say that the riverside area was recently sketchy or that it’s sketchy right now.”

  6. First of all, calling a travel writer a journalist is a stretch.. They crank out books every year as quickly and cheaply as possible. As someone who has played a role in RAD over the past15 years, on Chicken Hill, I see no reason to blame nb for Frommers poor research(or feel left out by the story…). Nor do I take the presses desire to tag the next person or business entry as the new “savior” as meaningful in any way, They just like to write stories… Some people want to complain about everything nb does to the point of ridiculousness. This is as they say a tempes in a teapot.

  7. Jonathan Wainscott says:

    This pretty much guarantees we’ll be making next year’s most over-rated lists. No biggie. It’s just the tourism industry. This is only a big deal in Asheville. This fuck up has no exposure outside the the various Asheville news outlets. Now, millions of people are continuing to believe what they heard on GMA and they will make decisions base on the hype they hear.

    None of this was journalism. Frommer’s was on GMA hocking its travel guide. It’s all a commercial. It was a commercial for Frommer’s and the cities they chose and New Belgium.

    So now people will visit and wonder “WTF?” and we all lose. Gosh , I sure hope Cliff figures this out for us. I’m sure GMA will be calling Cliff back real soon.

    • Austin Blythe says:

      You’re right, and obviously the only thing that can save is to run that evil brewery right out of town before any more horror can befall us.

      Man, you are going to grind that axe until it’s nothing but a nub, aren’t you? And when the brewery is up and running, you’ll probably stand in the parking lot and scream at it to get off your lawn.

      I watched some of your youtube videos, by the way, and the only thing I can ask after watching them is this: What the hell is wrong with you? You sound damn near unstable.

    • I thought it was a long shot that they would respond to me, but they did respond to Jake Frankel of the Mountain Xpress. Frommer acknowledged her team’s errors in reporting and that they got their timelines wrong. http://mountainx.com/news/frommer-responds-to-criticism-of-good-morning-america-interview-about-asheville/ Can this be put to bed now?

  8. Jonathan Wainscott says:

    Cecil Bothwell ‘Well, duh. So who cares what Frommer said? I’d advise potential visitors to Asheville to purchase the best-selling guide to our fair City since 2005, Finding Your Way in Asheville. (Yeah, I wrote it. But, I don’t spew the crap you hear from Frommers’s”

    We know Cecil. You spew your very own special kinda crap.

  9. Well, I guess she should have said something about the panhandlers and transients on every corner in downtown and the lack of parking in (locals only) west Asheville. I’m sure that would have made Jason much happier. LOL. Why so angry all he time?

  10. Are they really revitalizing the RAD? A large company can have knock off effect. Their most obvious impact is Craven Street. Claiming credit for the RAD is a bit of a stretch. It may even hamper the ongoing revitalization process. Some may view it as an eyesore (not as pretty as their Fort Collins location) and a nose sore. What kind of odors will the people in the RAD have to endure?? What???

  11. Aside from being premature about New Belgium’s impact, the point that really stands out to me (which is only maybe being alluded to in this thread) is the fact that Froemmer’s picked Asheville BECA– — USE OF the “formerly sketchy neighborhood . . .” and yes, a bunch of breweries. That’s not a reason to name it #1! Nearly every city in the US has a revitalized neighborhood/waterfront/downtown/hipster enclave/nightlife district. I haven’t read their full write-up (their site isn’t working for me right now), and I realize Mrs Froemmer had all of 20 seconds to talk about Asheville, but the sole reason she mentioned (whether it exists yet or not) is simply not a reason to be #1. It minimizes everything else that is great about Asheville; I’ll save you the list here, but you know it. We all know Asheville is great, that this was true many years ago, even before New Belgium. Personally, I think New Belgium is a welcomed addition to town, I think they will have a positive impact, but their inclusion here is not really warranted and it unfortunately casts a shadow over everything else that makes us unique.

  12. Wow. Who cares? Are we SO important in Asheville that we really need a pat on the back? Quit feeling so entitled to an apology. Think about it. How elitist and snobby will AVL seem like if NB and GMA feel that they need to issue an apology? Those complaining sound like whiny kindergartners who can’t see the forest for the trees. Anyone with half brain will show up and see that what has been created and established in the River Arts District hasn’t just popped up overnight. It’s apparent that it’s been established long before NB moved in. Grow up. You sound more annoying that the tourists that roam the streets.

    Start an uproar about things that do matter. Boo hoo.

    • This. Thanks for that. Can I get a m0therf*ing “Amen”?

    • Great response Suzanne! Actually, anybody in advertising knows that even sketchy press is great press because people will see for themselves. The real heart of RAD reflects the history of the great city that refused to file bankruptcy after the Great Depression. RAD has grown beautifully, slowly, and creatively on it’s own. Now grab your positive spin on Asheville and go make it even better. Good grief!

  13. Bill McClement says:

    I have been a news reporter for nearly 40 years and I have come to realize a couple of things about local stories getting national coverage. Every time a local story on any subject gets coverage in the national media, accuracy takes a bit of a beating. (remember Eric Rudolph captured “near” Asheville, or when a GMA News Reader once sent coverage back to the hosts doing a show at Biltmore Estate and referred to the location as Asheville, South Carolina…geez). On feature stories like this, you have to look at the big picture. People will see and/or read the report, they will come here to visit and spend money. Mission Accomplished!

  14. Asheville fundamentally changed on april 25,2003. Everybody who arrived after that date needs to leave.

  15. So, I have attempted to get GMA to retract/explain their poor reporting as it relates to this story. Here is a copy of what I submitted through ABC’s website.

    “In your top travel spots 2015, you recently included a lot of misinformation regarding New Belgium Brewing’s role in the revitalization of Asheville’s River Arts District. Your mis-reporting of facts has caused a great deal of anger in our community as it negated the hard work of Riverlink, local artists, and others that have been working in the RAD for decades. New Belgium hasn’t been built yet and in no way was responsible for what you reported. Please retract and/or explain the error.”

    If I hear anything, I’ll definitely let everyone know. Obviously the GMA story was poorly written and damaged the reputations of the hardworking individuals responsible for the RAD’s revitalization over the past 20 years and New Belgium Brewing, a company that will have a hard enough time trying to prove they mean well in a city as protective of itself as Asheville. It’s only fair that the news agency take credit for their mistakes.

    • Jonathan Wainscott says:

      thanks Rich…

    • Well put. That is exactly the point. Exactly the issue here. The Frommer comments passed over a lot of people (like Karen Cragolin and Pattiy Torno) who have been working on the area around the river since the ’80s and ’90s. It’s not whining to expect people reporting on a subject to be accurate in what they say and to call them on their mistakes.

    • Thank you Asheville for having parts I have not explored. Don’t hold your breath for a reply, Cliff. Those network folks have more, important stories to create. I’ve heard Charlotte mis-characterized as a former college town, and seen Fox Business compare a $2M home in another state to a $170k listing in CLT they thought was two million, without Stuart Varney or Cheryl Casone blinking an eye.

  16. Now how did RAD know New Belgium was coming over 20 years ago when the first redevelopments began? Tardis? New Belgium is on the wrong side of the river to claim credit. It’s changing Craven Street more than anything else.

    A lot of people deserve credit. A neglected area so close to burgeoning downtown and in a growing Asheville helps too. It was only a matter of time like South Slope.

  17. I agree with Barry. It isn’t that big of a deal. We are a phenomenal town, and as someone once said “there is no bad publicity.” Let’s turn this into a positive!

  18. After thinking about this for a day or so, as a tinfoil-hat wearer from way back, I have to say I think this is probably much ado about nothing. The most likely scenario is something like this:

    New Belgium/PR firm talking points > Asheville Chamber of Commerce > Tourism Development Authority > low-level travel industry stringer > Frommer staff > Pauline Frommer > camera lens, which we all know adds ten pounds and subtracts 20 IQ points. And every step of the way it loses some accuracy and context, and finally lands on the lowest common denominator in “news”: Good Morning America.

    I base that partly on the step before GMA, the online version of the Frommer report, which states (badly) that these great things haven’t happened yet.

    “In late 2015, the $175 million, employee-owned New Belgium brewery turns the formerly forbidding French Broad River district into cyclable parkland for beer lovers, and as the company actively stimulates the growth of farmers’ markets and the local River Arts District… blah blah blah.”

    So she gets on GMA and forgets, or chooses to ignore the ‘future-tense’, because what’s she’s really selling isn’t an accurate portrait of Asheville – it’s herself, and she’s only got so many seconds to do that.

    Professional tourism thumpers + lazy journalism = pissed off locals.

    • If I were the owner of a company that was given credit in a national newcast for something that my company did not do and has not done, however erroneously, I would “man up” and issue a statement saying as much.

      New Belgium seems to be content with just letting it go and accepting credit (where credit is certainly not due) for a “redone” River Arts District.

      Frommer’s, apparently, is tone deaf to their own fuck up…

    • Great response. Thank you!

    • luther blissett says:

      Professional tourism thumpers + lazy journalism = pissed off locals.

      + depressingly familiar internet outrage cycle = this post.

      20 years ago, sloppy silly flack stuff like this would have been spewed to an audience of distracted and/or hungover people and forgotten about. (New Year’s Day? I bet they were all running on remnants of the previous night’s liquid sustenance.)

      Bigger fish to fry than this.

  19. Former Reporter at WYPN says:

    I know some of you want to see a giant conspiracy in all of this, but I’m going with the simplest and most likely explanation: it’s just sloppy journalism, the same kind I now see every day abundant in nearly every medium.

      • Geraldine Peterson says:

        I second that “Yup”.

        Lazy journalism, which also then begs to ask the question about Frommer’s credibility in their travel recommendations…

        The damage was to Pauline Frommer and her organization, and not to Asheville as we still live here, and know the real story.

    • Thank you former reporter. Your insight is absolutely accurate in my opinion. Now let’s finish this so the tourists who pay the taxes don’t shy away from us!

      • Actually, the tourists don’t pay any taxes. The City of Asheville gets like $15K for every $5 million in consumer spending in the city limits, the rest goes to subsidize the redneck welfare queens out in the county. The hotel tax they pay gets funneled to the hotel owners, who make videos and commercials to sell hotel nights. City taxpayers are left holding the solid waste/effluent/law enforcement bag.

        Whatevs to Frommers, whatevs to tourists, but city property owners are subsidizing Marriott, which kind of sucks.

    • Yes, it appears quite simple indeed. But, as we all know, we can’t have that.

    • As a former reporter myself, I agree. No conspiracy here … just more poorly prepared and poorly edited work.

  20. Frommer clearly also had not done her homework on Washington, D.C….oops, South Dakota (???), or Belize, which has been “on the map” since well before Breaking Bad, for God’s sake. Those silly grins and contrived head tilts don’t make her any more convincing. Apparently, she’s busy focusing on being a socialite and less interested in the facts. “Oh, I just ad libbed; what’s the big deal? We have lots of…uh…writers…don’t we??”

  21. Well, I hope the hordes stay away. Especially any that would take Frommer’s comments seriously! We do NOT need tourists dollars here….we do have a tourist industry but it occurs naturally and because of inherent characteristics and deep rooted landmarks, not because of the newly sprung up beer industry (and I like beer, lol.) We are half natives and half relocated creatives and the two groups have been learning and leaning on each other to make our town and area an enviable environment and coupled with our area’s natural beauty we were just about perfect. I just hope our local government understands all this and takes steps to control an eminent growth explosion….and THAT is what will bring with it boat loads of “sketchy” all over our pristine Western North Carolina!

  22. I really appreciate these people coming in and turning our backwards, “sketchy” asses around and MONETIZING OUR HOME.
    Its that attitude of “Thanks, we’ll take it from here, BYE.” that kills me, like we were just substandard caretakers, waiting for The Money People to come show us how its done…

    .. but I’ve SEEN “how its done”, and I pray that doesn’t happen to Our Asheville.

  23. Sigh. We could buy beer for the breweries came. Personally, I prefer sketchy to scrubbed botox bunnies coming on Disney TV aka ABC (look it up).

    It is the further Floridification of Asheville.

    And it’s going the way of Boulder, Bozeman, and other great places – a shadow of what it once was “back in the day”.

    Pity. It was much more fun before the hordes got here.

  24. I have grave concerns over the increase of tourism in Asheville and its surrounding areas. This area is changing from some place special to just some generic tourist destination.

  25. Of course it’s wrong. But what i want to know is: How did that gaffe actually happen? Was it the Chamber of Commerce that set the initial lie? Did the RAD Mucketty-mucks make too much of New Belgium influence. Did Frommer’s only talk to New Belgium? It had to start somewhere…

  26. wwww.frommers.com/contact_us

  27. Good lawd, how embarressing for Frommer’s to be so wildly inaccurate. This totally shatters their credabilty. I’ll take a Michelin Guide any day.

    New Belgium is not and never will be our knight in shining armor, come to save the sketchy river district with beer and beer swilling tourists.

  28. Bravo Jason!

  29. jonathan wainscott says:

    Bringing in the piece GMA host Lara Spencer introduced Pauline Frommer as the Editorial Director of Frommer’s Guide. “I love the fact that you hit the ground running with journalists who are going to these destinations and really taking a good look for your customers”, said Spencer

    “Yeah, we have journalists all over the world. They picked 15 spots. First one in the US? Asheville” Frommer replied.

    Now, how does a journalist with the responsibility of providing information to its customers on the best bets for travel, come to Asheville and conclude that their customers should come to Asheville to experience a thing that isn’t even here? How does that happen? Could it possibly be that this “reporting” was merely guerrilla marketing? This sure doesn’t seem like journalism of any sort. It goes way beyond sloppy reporting, poorly chosen words, and bad editing (cutting to the Biltmore Estate when talking about the “redone” riverfront).

    Asheville was a very attractive place and that attraction, along with hefty tax breaks borne by the citizens of Asheville, is what brought New Belgium here. New Belgium is legendary in their use of guerrilla marketing ( http://www.slideshare.net/serio275/fat-tire-beer-guerrilla-marketing-campaign ).

    Who gave Frommer’s this narrative? Who were the people that Frommer’s met when their journalists hit the ground running to take a good look at this place for their customers? How could a Frommer’s reporter come away with the understanding that there are parks, sidewalks, greenways, and arts collectives that New Belgium is responsible for?

    This isn’t reporting. It’s marketing, and it doesn’t take Bob Woodward to see that. In addition to the appalling commercial in news clothing, the marketing of Asheville as Beer City and Thomas Kinkade as THE art to see here is a travesty. No one with their fingerprints on this should be proud of themselves whether that was solely Frommer’s, the EDC, the Chamber of Commerce, the TDA, or New Belgium.

    Thanks Jason for being the most forthright journalist to cover this story of a story so far.

  30. Jason – Thank you for putting a solid context around this story.

    We were surprised to see that we were mentioned in the Good Morning America story about Asheville as a top travel destination. We did not source this story, we were not contacted by anyone regarding our inclusion, and we have no contacts to that end to share more accurate information. We are reminded every day that all of Asheville was wonderful long before we arrived. The River Arts District and West Asheville have a rich history that reflects the social and cultural distinctions that made us fall in love with this city. We agree that Asheville’s a great place to visit, and we also know that Asheville is a fantastic place to live and work. As we open our brewery at the end of 2015, we will continue to contribute – along with others who are making this place awesome – to making Asheville a place we’re damn proud to call home.

    Frommer’s opinion shared on GMA does not at all reflect New Belgium’s opinion about Asheville or about our role in Asheville.

    • jonathan wainscott says:

      http://www.slideshare.net/serio275/fat-tire-beer-guerrilla-marketing-campaign

      Wow. What a happy accident for you guys. Getting credit for rebuilding the riverfront on Good Morning America. This just fell into your lap. Frommer’s came to town, saw your construction site, closed roads, no parks and just took a guess that you guys had also established arts collectives. That is so crazy! Hey, BTW, when is that really really awesome bus stop gonna be done? Can’t believe Frommer’s forgot to mention that…

    • Satan is Rich, Lee says:

      Oh please…

    • Oh now I get it, this was a Portlandia spoof, with Asheville long time residents, artists, tailgate marketers, visionaries who’ve been around these parts since the 1890s, etc, as the butt of the spoof.

  31. Roger McCredie says:

    Well summarized and well expressed, Jason.

  32. Yeah I was offended. Obviously.

  33. Jason, I posted a comment on the NB Asheville Facebook page wondering if they would issue a statement to clarify the inaccuracies in the Frommer’s announcement on GMA (and elsewhere), here is the response to that comment:

    “Jeff we are just hearing of this ourselves. We were surprised to see that we were mentioned in the Good Morning America story about Asheville as a top travel destination, and are quite sure that all of Asheville was wonderful long before we arrived. The River Arts District and West Asheville have a rich history that reflects the social and cultural distinctions that made us fall in love with this city. We agree that Asheville’s a great place to visit, and we also know that Asheville is a fantastic place to live and work. As we open our brewery at the end of 2015, we will continue to contribute to making Asheville a place we’re damn proud to call home.”

    Hard to believe NB wasn’t given “a head’s up” prior to this going public; and also hard to believe that they would so blithely dismiss the falsities by Frommer’s

    If the brewery folks “are in the dark,” then who is/was responsible for the wildly innaccurate narrative that Frommer’s continues to promulgate: the CVB, the Chamber of Commerce…time will certainly tell!

    Good work, BTW!

    • Former Reporter at WYPN says:

      Why would New Belgium have been given a head’s up? For what purpose?

      • Satan is Rich, Lee says:

        Seriously? It’s called “media coverage”..
        New Belgium has been not only alerted, but fully aware of such” blunder”.
        Wake up.

      • Asheville Native says:

        As a small business owner in Asheville, we are always contacted if we are to be mentioned in an article, especially if it’s a national magazine or publication. With New Belgium being central to this commentary, it’s hard to imagine that Frommer’s didn’t talk to them at all. I think that’s what they meant by not getting a heads up. Good writers usually like to get the story straight from the business itself.

        It’s almost like Frommer’s never really came to Asheville to check out their story. As if their source was just other articles that have been written about Asheville.

        • Former Reporter at WYPN says:

          “It’s almost like Frommer’s never really came to Asheville to check out their story. As if their source was just other articles that have been written about Asheville.”

          That’s exactly my point.

    • Jon roberts says:

      Probably those republicans at the chamber.

  34. The Frommer online story is slightly more accurate (?), but at the same time weirdly science-fictional in the sense that it praises New Belgium for doing all these great things for Asheville in the future:

    “In late 2015, the $175 million, employee-owned New Belgium brewery turns the formerly forbidding French Broad River district into cyclable parkland for beer lovers, and as the company actively stimulates the growth of farmers’ markets and the local River Arts District, it’s helping push Asheville over the line from a pleasant mountain burg to a Great American Town where it’s a pleasure to hang out for a while.”

    “…and by 2035, hoverbikes are replacing their dowdy earthbound cousins, and the New Belgium City Council officially changes the name of “Fat Tire” beer to “Fat Nothing”.

    OK, I made up that last part.

    To whatever degree that this inaccurate portrait of Asheville came from any NB press releases, etc., I do think that it would be nice if they made it real clear that Asheville was pretty cool before they came here.

    • Sandi Krecioch says:

      Exactly. Why did they come here to begin with? Because Asheville was a great area to do business. New Belgium just happens to be a large conglomerate. They do not and will not take away from the many great micro beer company’s that have opened up recently, nor the many other businesses that call home in the RAD.

  35. Well put.

    Let the bored bourgeoisie re-tell history in whatever ways help them sleep at night. This is a common theme repeated all over the world.

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