Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Asheville Miracle: How downtown Asheville went from boarded-up wasteland to what it is today

A May 25 presentation at the Wortham explored what natives already know -- that downtown Asheville was once a wasteland of empty, boarded-up buildings. There was no nightlife, and downtown shut down at 5pm.

Mountain Xpress covered the presentation and shares photos and a Twitter-based explanation of how and why Asheville emerged from its chrysalis, and who helped make our downtown into the vibrant adult playground we all love.

Here's an excerpt of the Xpress article. Longtime residents will remember the days when most of downtown was untenanted and largely abandoned.

Full article here.


The Asheville miracle: A startling look at downtown 20 years ago and the folks who transformed it

The Grove Arcade, boarded up and abandoned, before it was renovated in the 1990s.

About 200 people attended “The Asheville Miracle: The Revitalization of Downtown,” a presentation sponsored by the Downtown Asheville Residential Neighbors (DARN) on May 25 at Diana Wortham Theatre.

Xpress reporter Michael Muller covered the meeting as it took place via Twitter, starting at 6:45 p.m. and ending at 9:05 p.m.

“Pack Square is the living room of our community,” says Lesley Anderson in her opening remarks. Anderson is talking about history of Bele Chere, the downtown design review process.

The Southwest corner of Patton & Biltmore, where the Noodle Shop and Sisters McMullin now do business.

Anderson: “We now have the largest percentage of income-producing buildings of any county in the state.”

Anderson is talking about the hundreds of people involved in the public/private partnership whose efforts revitalized downtown.

Karen Tessier is now going through turn of the (20th) century photos of Asheville: trolleys, francy-shmancy. And now, in contrast, showing pictures of downtown Asheville all boarded up, pigeons and proverbial rats everywhere. Tessier says she could walk downtown all afternoon and “not see another person.”

Here’s the building where Malaprop’s is now located.

Tessier is showing a photo of Eagle Street. The YMI Center looks like a decrepid, burned-out shell. She’s showing shocking pictures of Wall Street, Haywood Street. No people in pictures. Tessier is talking about kids who are now in their 30s and 40s, who grew up only learning about downtown Asheville at “Discovery Day,” because otherwise they’d never come downtown.

Looking down at Wall Street, the current site of Early Girl restaurant.

Pat Whalen, executive director of Public Interest Projects (PIP), is saying: “There were more pigeons than people,” and that most buildings were covered in aluminum siding. “That will never work here, don’t even try,” was the unofficial motto. Whalen notes that there were five restauarnts downtown in ‘80s, compared to to over 60 today.

He says Mark Rosenstein, owner of the Market Place Restaurant, was a leader in Asheville’s restaurant scene.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the construction of Pack Place and redesign of Wall Street were completed.

John Lantzius and his sister Dawn renovated buildings up and down Lexington, and fought against a plan to turn a multi-block section of downtown in a mall, Whalen says.

And yet the city & county had the foresight to keep all of downtown’s public buildings, Whalen says.

Site of the condos next to the Woolworth building on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville.

Julian Price was shy, and so many people didn’t know that he gave lots of money to nonprofits to fund revitaliztion. Price invested millions of his own money, and literally gave away his money to make Asheville a livable city. He wanted to get residents to move downtown; he believed the key to doing this was revitalizing the city. Downtown residents were “The real secret weapon,” Price said.


Katie said...

I LOVE this! I think it is so special when we can not only see progress we've made but remember the good things about the past we want to preserve.

One Girl said...

Incredible! Thank you so much for this post!