A parcel of city-of-Asheville owned property that’s been the center of controversy on and off since 2001 is bound to be back in the spotlight after city officials announced plans for a new “visioning” process Wednesday afternoon. A proposal to re-engage the public in a discussion about how the property, which sits along Haywood Street in downtown Asheville across from the U.S. Cellular Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence, was announced at the State of Downtown luncheon sponsored by the Asheville Downtown Association.
Plans to develop the property have been debated, argued, fussed over, voted on and tossed out for the past 15 years. Everyone from Asheville city officials (parking deck) to church officials (apartments and green space) to outside developers (boutique hotel) to preservationists (city park) have made a pitch. Nothing has stuck. In February 2015, the city announced plans to put the property back up for sale, but that didn’t happen, as debate over the property’s future became a central issue in Asheville City Council elections. Two candidates that supported a proposal to make the property a public park space won election to City Council – Keith Young and Brian Haynes.
On Wednesday, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said that Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler will lead a group that once again seek public input on how the property, which is just under 1 acre, should be developed. “One idea is having a park design competition,” Manheimer said.
After hearing from the community, the city will decide what to do. “Paying for it is a whole ‘nother matter,” she said.
Ben Colvin, president of the Asheville Downtown Association, said the organization would be involved in the “visioning” process. Former association president Adrian Vassallo announced that the group had donated $5,000 toward the effort.
Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights in the wrangling over the years:
-2001: City of Asheville acquires parcels and announces plan to build a parking deck. Some residents, noting the presence of the large civic center deck nearby, object, citing traffic concerns. The basilica community objects, noting that ground-shaking construction work and added traffic could damage its treasured dome, which is already in need to structural reinforcement work. Preservationists, meantime, began a grassroots effort to build support for turning the area into a park and pedestrian-friendly zone.
-2007: The city sends out requests for proposals to develop the site. McKibbon responds with a plan to build a 140-room hotel. McKibbon offers $1.7 million. The Basilica offers its plan for apartments/green space and $1 million. In the meantime, the economy tanks.
-2012: Asheville City Council votes 4-2 to sell the property to McKibbon, who plans to develop a hotel and promises to include an ample plaza to space the hotel from the Basilica. Council takes its action despite a forceful plea from the local activist group People Advocating Real Conservancy, which provides a petition as evidence that the public wants a park on the land.
-2013: After years of expressing interest and investing tens of thousands of dollars in proposals, McKibbon walks away. His stated reason is a lawsuit filed by three neighboring hotels seeking to block the deal. In their lawsuit, Renaissance Asheville, Four Points Sheraton and Hotel Indigo contend city officials did not follow state law governing private sales and sold the Haywood Street lot for less than fair market value.
One additional note to that timeline (I’ve told this story before, but here goes anyway):
When we formed “PARC” in 2003, to fight the City’s attempt to sell off a portion of Pack Square for luxury condos, it set off a ripple effect in the development community. On the day that the Grove Park Inn announced they were abandoning their plans to build those condos in the park, a supporter of ours was in a downtown business. He overheard two local developers, known to be involved in the parking deck plans, discussing the days news.
“Yeah, I saw that. That’s a damn shame.”
“I just hope they don’t come after us next.”
Those plans turned out to be somewhat shady, and when we raised our concerns, that project went away too.
Never doubt that average citizens can have a positive effect in the future character of our city. The folks who only see ‘profit’ count on our quiet acquiescence – once we withhold that, and say what we want to see, all things are possible.
I can wait until we spend 2-3millii. dollars to build a bum habitat with trampled grass competing with cigarette butts to form a nice carpet for drunks to puke upon after Widespread Panic shows at the civic center! Wooooo Real Conservancy!
This new ‘park’ (two blocks from the other park) will be a great place to stage Drum Circle Pt. Deux! It did finally won’t cost the city a dime to police & maintain! I bet a unicorn will shit out a water feature that runs upward of 7 months a year on this blessed parcel!
This is “the truth”…and it hurts.
I completely agree. It’s also interesting how they place demands on developers to “donate” to the housing fund while they focus on building more parks on property suitable for affordable housing development. Very sad.
Agreed. Nothing makes me think this park will be any different from Pritchard Park. Great to see consensus here, they can call of the visioning seance. Sell it to a private entity that will put retail/restaurant on the ground with a plaza/greenspace out front.
Yep… the problem with all of this heavy handedness from the city is that the only developer likely to pay for all of the “good-will-glitter” will be someone none of us like….
Sad but true. What a waste of our political attention as a community. Pritchard Park 2.0 is not something worth discussing for 18 months and basing your election of officials on. So much more important stuff happening.
The argument that two small downtown parks plus one big one is too many doesn’t hold water. Asheville’s sidewalks are absolutely crowded enough to support a park there. Make it mostly a hardscape plaza with some shade trees.
For comparison, Savannah’s squares are spaced two blocks apart from each other and they have 22 of them, plus a big riverfront, plus Forsyth Park which is similar in size to Pack Square Park.
Sure, there some panhandlers, in both Asheville and Savannah, but that’s a weak argument against a park.
“Sure, there some panhandlers, in both Asheville and Savannah, but that’s a weak argument against a park.”
It’s not even an argument. It’s hate disguised as an argument.
I agree with orulz, and what would be the better alternative: a parking deck, a high rise, yet another hotel or maybe one more brewpub? People who express objections with such rancor and vehemence must surely have a better idea.
That said… just taking the city land as-is and turning it into a park is a half baked idea, too.
Firstly, development absolutely has to be part of the equation. The existing buildings and parking lot to the south would form an extremely poor edge to the park.
Secondly, you have to get the Roman Catholic Diocese on board. They own a lot of land nearby and most of it is parking lots. Some of that land could be developed, some of it could actually be included in the park.
Thirdly, streets should be reconfigured. You could wind up with a bigger and better park if you could realign Page Street and Haywood/Flint street into a T-intersection, and you’d make a better southern edge by connecting a street between Battle Square and Vanderbilt Place.
Here is my proposal for what to do.
CLICK HERE FOR MAP
My proposal yields a 1 acre park, which is exactly the size of most of the squares in Savannah, about three times the size of Pritchard Park, and about 1/3 the size of the actual park space at Pack Square (excluding the roads and parking lots.) The shape would be approximately square, approximately 200′ on each side.
With this proposal, the city winds up with only about 1/8 of an acre to sell, and even that is only developable if combined with other nearby parcels. So: Yes, not a lot of money for the city from selling the property.
But think of the benefits. A new park facing one of the city’s largest performance venues (civic center) and its most cherished architectural gems (the basilica) and catty corner from another (Grove Arcade).
A few comments:
The goal here should absolutely not be for the city to quickly make a buck by selling the property to a developer, even if they say they will build a public plaza. The plaza in McKibbon’s proposal frankly was crappy.
That said, private development is not the devil. Surrounding the park with private development is critically important to making it work – but the devil IS in the details. We need to make sure that we get what we want out of a park FIRST, and then take private development into consideration.
You can’t do it without the Diocese. They are justifiably concerned that their interests be taken into account. I believe they were not satisfied with the process last time to just sell off the property, but if you negotiate in good faith with them as a partner, and take their concerns into consideration, they probably will come on board.
Making the park mostly hardscape plus shade trees makes maintenance less of an issue. Forget about grass. Any plantings should be in raised beds so they don’t get trampled on.
The small piece of a corner pictured here is not what has been in the spotlight. The land in question is across Page Avenue to the South. The proposed parking deck was not located on the “property” either, but rather directly North of Battery Park Apartments.