A piece of city-owned property on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville will soon be back up for sale. The property is roughly shaped like a triangle, with its top point aimed at teal circle in the center/left of this photo. The big white square at center/right is the U.S. Cellular Center.
A piece of city-owned property on Haywood Street may be designed as a new park.

A controversial parcel of city-owned property in downtown Asheville could be the focus of  a park design competition, but first there needs to be an over-riding vision for the space, members of an Asheville City Council subcommittee said Tuesday.

The property (some call it the “pit of despair”) along Haywood Street sits across from the U.S. Cellular Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence. It has been the center of contentious debate on and off for 15 years as various proposals for private development and public parks have come and gone. Asheville City Council’s desires have also ebbed and flowed with political tides. (Right now, the property includes surface parking and a staging area for a hotel construction site at the corner of Page and Battery Park avenues.) But following last year’s City Council election, in which the future of the property was a key issue, it appears the land will developed as a park.

During Tuesday’s meeting of Council’s planning and economic development subcommittee, Councilman Gordon Smith said a majority of City Council “appears to be in favor of a park designation,” although there’s been no formal vote. Still, Smith and fellow committee members Councilman Brian Haynes and Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler moved ahead with hearing out plans for turning the property into a public park and taking public comment.

Todd Okolichany, director of the city’s planning and urban design department, laid out a potential park design process. City staff suggested a public engagement process and the establishment of a stakeholder committee. A park design contest could be modeled after Boston’s Public Space Invitational, he said, or The Connected City Challenge in Dallas.

The city could issue a request for proposals and structure the park design contest by awarding three design teams $8,000 each to come up with a park design that met specific criteria, Okolichany said. City Council could choose a winner and award a $16,000 prize. With another $10,000 spent on public out reach materials, the contest would have a $50,000 total budget, he said.

City staff recommended that the park planning process include nearby Pritchard Park, Okolichany said, to be sure park programming is aligned. He also said that city staff wanted direction about whether to include 33 Page Ave. in the park planning foot print. The location is the former home the Asheville Sister Cities project and it, too, is city owned. The nonprofit moved out in December after the building was deemed dangerous and unfit for occupancy. The lot is adjacent to the “pit of despair” Haywood Street property.

Wisler said she liked the process, but added that she wanted a “community visioning process” to give guidance to the overall project before the start of a park design competition.

Adrian Vassallo, chairman of the Asheville Downtown Commission, tersely reminded the City Council subcommittee that his organization had already advised City Council to engage the Asheville Design Center in the visioning process, and openly wondered why the subcommittee appeared to be ignoring that advice. Vassallo announced last week that the Asheville Downtown Association had pledged $5,000 toward the visioning process.

Chris Joyell, executive director of the Asheville Design Center, told the subcommittee that his volunteer group of design experts have been involved in discussions about developing the property since 2012. “We feel confident that at this stage, nobody can come to this process with more understanding,” he said.

Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell, an longtime ardent supporter of having the property developed as a park, made a quick PowerPoint presentation during the public comment period. Titled “A People’s Park,” Bothwell said the planning process needed to address a host of concerns, from whether the property should remain at two elevations or be brought to how to pay for the park. He suggested web-based surveys to engage the public, as well as demonstration garden beds, temporary art installations and a temporary performance space to enliven the space. As far as paying for it all, Bothwell suggested finding sponsors, selling naming rights and hitting up the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority for grant cash.

In coming to a decision, Smith said he favored having the Asheville Design Center lead the visioning process, and that he was for “broad public input.” He suggested that the stakeholder committee including people from outside downtown, since “downtown is everyone’s backyard.” He said he was also interested in redesigning the streets around the Haywood Street space to make them safer for motorists and pedestrians.

And as far as whether the lot at 33 Page Ave. should be included in the park planning, Smith said “that’s a huge question.” Smith said the building could possibly be a location used to address Asheville’s affordable housing crisis.

Haynes chimed in, saying, “I basically want to see as much public involvement as early as possible.”

 

 

In the end Wisler and her committee members said they would move the process on to Asheville City Council without making a recommendation on the 33 Page Ave. location.

15 Comments

  1. I just don’t get it. So, a few too many hotels get built downtown, and now every sort of development, other than parks, becomes evil. The money spent on a park boondoggle could easily go to support sidewalks, education, and even social services to address homelessness. Instead, money goes to build a park that will become Pritchard Park II that will probably be occupied by the same homeless people who should be supported in other ways by scarce city funding!

    It wouldn’t be so comical if there weren’t numerous green spaces within a few blocks in all directions. City residents can’t have it both ways by living in a convenient urban environment while simultaneously decrying development, affordable housing projects, or any other type of noise or urban characteristic. There is plenty of land about 20 miles outside of Asheville suitable for total peace, quiet and green space, with MUCH cheaper prices than in Asheville.

  2. There’s been a lot of public support for a park at this location. I, too, am in favor. Folks in favor should put their money where their mouth is, and donate to a building fund.

    There are plenty of people in this town with some grease to spare. I would contribute. I don’t see any need to raise taxes for it.

  3. Former Reporter at WYPN says:

    I think you meant to title this “With park now planned for Haywood Street property in Asheville, how should it be PAID FOR.”

    This council’s obsession with downtown at the expense of its neighborhoods is outrageous. I would rather see money spent on sidewalks and neighborhood parks instead of yet another downtown green space.

    • The Real World says:

      Reporter – yes, agreed. This entire situation has assumed obsessive proportions for many people. They’ve really lost control of their own reasoning.

      You’d think it was a make or break decision for the city but, it so totally isn’t.

      • Former Reporter at WYPN says:

        And they’re doubling down on this by taking a valuable piece of land in the middle of the city and removing it from the tax rolls, then spending millions to redevelop it into something we already have.

        Good job, good effort.

  4. I responded to this but it seems my post is stuck in moderation because I guess I attached a link.

    Here is what I wrote, minus the link.

    My suggestion from the previous article on the subject:
    Expand the scope:
    -Acquire 1/4 acre from the Roman Catholic Diocese to realign Page Avenue and make the park a whole acre (which would be 3x Pritchard, 1/3 of Pack, and exactly the size of most of Savannah’s squares.)
    -Consider encouraging redevelopment and improvement of adjacent properties.
    -Try to negotiate to incorporate a public parking deck as a component of redeveloping the remainder of the Diocese parking lot (if they’re on board with the idea).

  5. A “design contest”… why is it that the City expects folks to do such work for free in hopes of winning a contest?

    Would they hold a contest to design a parking deck – probably not, so why do so for a park?

  6. Hillary Sanders says:

    So we have a pit of despair. What makes anyone think that this won’t be a park of despair? Take care of the parks that we have, and stop wasting OUR money on studies of half-baked ideas to appease the vocal minority. A nice line of shops with apartments or condos above is a more appropriate use. Sell it to a developer with restrictions on its use and be done with it. Please!

    • Exactly!!! I completely agree.

    • This has been my concern all along. Will my taxes be raised YET AGAIN to pay for ANOTHER park downtown, where many residents of Asheville rarely go anymore? But the biggest issue for me has been maintaining the park once it is built…the cost doesn’t end once the park is built. It goes on forever. We have so many lovely parks in Asheville that I enjoy (and I thank all of you for that). Do we really need another one, diminishing the care of the existing ones? Everyone loves green space, but we have serious needs for sidewalks in neighborhoods where Ashevillians LIVE and WORK. Neighborhood roads need to be paved. The list goes on and on.

  7. My suggestion from the previous article on the subject:

    https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zDxDEf2QTUKg.kbIBv19uRDxE&usp=sharing

    Expand the scope:
    -Acquire 1/4 acre from the Roman Catholic Diocese to realign Page Avenue and make the park a whole acre (which would be 3x Pritchard, 1/3 of Pack, and exactly the size of most of Savannah’s squares.)
    -Consider encouraging redevelopment and improvement of adjacent properties.
    -Try to negotiate to incorporate a public parking deck as a component of redeveloping the remainder of the Diocese parking lot (if they’re on board with the idea).

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