Leadership Asheville Forum Learns about the State of the City - TribPapers

Leadership Asheville Forum Learns about the State of the City

Nancy Waldrop, President, expresses her gratitude to Robin Harben for her valuable contributions to the LAF Board as she retires. Photo Courtesy of P. King

Asheville – The Leadership Asheville Forum started its monthly luncheon meetings for members and guests. The planned itinerary was to have Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and County Chair Brownie Newman discuss the state of the city and county. Alas, at the last minute, Chairman Brownie Newman had a medical issue arise,which prevented him from attending.

Nancy Waldrop, President, opened the meeting by recognizing special guests who were present: Dr. Oralene Simmons, the founder and chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County; Martin Moore, County Commissioner for Buncombe County; Jim McAllister, Vice Mayor of Woodfin; and Ken Kahn, candidate for Woodfin Town Council, as well as Kim Roney, an Asheville City Council member. Waldrop then expressed her appreciation to Robin Harben, who has been on the LAF Board for 2 years and is now retiring. Over the years, she has provided valuable input and information for the organization’s activities and received a plaque. Waldrop turned over the mic to LAF Board Member, Joe McGuire, who introduced Mayor Manheimer. After Mayor Manheimer discussed her prepared slides, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. Board member,Joe McQuire, brought the microphone to the individuals so their questions could be asked.

Projects for Affordable House as seen on a slide. Photo courtesy of P. King
Projects for Affordable House as seen on a slide. Photo courtesy of P. King

Manheimer then started her presentation with a number of slides. She showed a photo of the all-female Asheville City Council members, then followed that with a pie chart of the 23/24 Adopted Budget. The chart showed that the largest part of the budget, $38.1 million, went to the Asheville Fire Department, and $33.8 million went to the Asheville Police Department. Then the pie was divided into smaller dollar amounts. She mentioned that the city relies primarily on property taxes for its revenue and receives very little money from tourists. Manheimer showed another slide and spoke on the city’s homelessness strategies, which have become a crisis in the area. She stated that currently there are about 176 people who would be considered unsheltered. The city is reaching out to partner with a number of organizations, such as the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and is seeking permanent supportive solutions with Homeward Bound—Days Inn for 85 units and Shangri La/Step Up—Ramada for 113 units.

Manheimer spoke on a number of the core service improvements that the city is working on. Thanks to the passage of the bond, there are sidewalk improvements on Airport Road and Hendersonville Road, and a new fire station with a crisis center and police presence is in the process of being built. This is the first fire station built since the 1980s. She also spoke of the Portland 100 Bathroom (Portland Loo) for the homeless, which is said to be indestructible and safe for users. Manheimer herself has seen it in Portland and said it has a proven track record. It will improve neighborhood livability and is said to be easy for a city to maintain. The city currently has plans to install one in Asheville.

The Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr. Southside Center has recently opened. A ribbon-cutting celebration for this $8.3 million neighborhood investment took place on August 4. This is the first new public pool to open in the city since 1970. The community centers there will be offering a number of classes and programs, such as exercise classes, salsa and line dancing, indoor basketball, arts and crafts, music jams, and drum circles, amongst many other activities. Manheimer also spoke of the updates to the Downtown Skatepark and the Shiloh Sport Courts.

A few other projects were discussed, such as the ongoing 1-26 Connector Project with funds for bike and walking paths (bridges) into the City of Asheville, as well as the serious problems at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Both are costly, challenging, and ongoing projects. In addition, she spoke of the Pack Square Visioning Survey, which has been asking for input from the public. A draft vision document was put on the Pack Square page of the city website, which had been seeking comments until August 21st.

Manheimer did say that one must remember that the city of Asheville is growing, unlike some cities, such as Rocky Mount, which are in fact dying. Raleigh and Charlotte are two of the fastest-growing cities in North Carolina. She thinks it is vitally important that we plan ahead for 5, 10, or 15 years to preserve the beauty of our city.

Then the forum was opened for questions by attendees. For lack of space, only a few can be mentioned here. One attendee asked about the moratorium on hotels—where does it currently stand? Another asked about reparations, the commission, and the timeline for that. Another asked about the safety downtown. It was generally commented on that, in the last few weeks, the safety in downtown Asheville has improved. Another attendee wanted to know if the city was preparing for climate problems and suggested that the city needed to “be prepared” for what might happen unexpectedly and bring on a crisis.

Nancy Waldrop then thanked Mayor Manheimer for her presentation. She then mentioned that next month, “On September 27, we are very excited to present a round table discussion with three informed speakers to share with us their perspective on “Artificial Intelligence (AI): the History, the Hype, and How It Can Help. Members of this 3-person panel will be Sarah Van Art, an assistant professor of computer science at UNCA; Semmy Purewal, also of UNCA; and Jeffrey Kaplan, director of Venture Asheville and an award-winning entrepreneur. This will be held again at the Country Club of Asheville from 11:30–1:30. To become a member of Leadership Asheville Forum, go to www.leadershipashevilleforum.com.