In a push to reduce expenses and trim emissions, the City of Asheville is conducting a shared-vehicle program that lets city staff have use of a compressed natural gas car and two bicycles. Launched in January, the City Share program allows multiple departments access to the vehicles to run city-related errands.
Maggie Ullman, Energy Coordinator for the City of Asheville’s Office of Sustainability, says the system, which underwent a trial run earlier this year, is preferable to one in which each department purchases and operates its own gasoline vehicle in the city’s fleet.
Sustainability Outreach Specialist Rachel Doebber with a City of Asheville bike and CNG Honda Civic
“We are coming at this from the direction of reducing our capital costs,” Ullman says. “But the cherry on top is that we are reducing our carbon footprint.”
Carbon emissions by CNG vehicles are dramatically lower than standard gasoline vehicles, and the Honda Civic CNG has been rated as one of the greenest cars made.
The city is also providing two bicycles in the City Share program, a four-speed cruiser and a 21-speed mountain bike, giving city employees a zero-emission option to get to a meeting or errand.
City employees interested in using the bikes take part in a bike safety course held on a regular basis and lead by the Asheville Police Department’s bike patrol, which has been operating since the fall of 2009.
“We partner with the APD to utilize their expertise in bike safety training,” Ullman says.
Since January, four city departments have had access to the vehicles: Legal, Administrative Services, Information Technology, and Planning and Development. Data collected during the trial period is being examined to determine if the program can be expanded to other departments.
In 2007, Asheville City Council passed a resolution with a goal of reducing the city’s municipal footprint 80% by 2050 and achieve a 2% reduction each year. Click here to see more on the City of Asheville’s efforts to reduce its municipal carbon footprint.
The Asheville Civic Center has been awarded a $2 million dollar grant, to be funded over a 4-year period, from the Tourism Product Development Fund of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, the City announced today. The grant will help fund a proposed $5.45 million dollar renovation of the Asheville Civic Center. The Tourism Product Development Fund, which is funded through the Buncombe County hotel occupancy tax, is dedicated to projects that will increase tourism and overnight lodging.
Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy noted: “This is an incredible opportunity. The Asheville Civic Center is an important economic engine for our city and our region. These funds will allow us to greatly improve the facility — and these improvements will benefit local residents and tourists alike.”
The proposed Civic Center improvements include new seating for the lower level of the arena, renovating the balcony seating and flooring, improving the locker rooms and dressing rooms, upgrading the lighting, messaging and sound systems in the arena, concourse renovations, and information technology improvements. The City of Asheville recently issued a Request for Qualifications for architectural and engineering services to begin the renovation process.
Sam Powers, Director of the city’s Office of Economic Development and Director of the Asheville Civic Center, commented: “This grant will play a major role in making our facilities better for fans, performers and promoters. We attract more than 200,000 patrons a year — and our research shows that over 70% of our ticket sales come from outside of Buncombe County. These visitors stay in local hotels, eat in local restaurants and support local businesses. The Civic Center generates a substantial economic impact. It is an asset worth investing in. We are thrilled that the Tourism Development Authority, Buncombe County and the City are coming together as partners in this project.”
The Asheville Civic Center first opened its doors 36-years ago and has hosted everything from concerts, plays, trade shows and sporting events to local high school graduations. Mike Burke, Chairman of the Asheville Civic Center Commission, noted that, “Even though the arena is in its fourth decade of use it has good bones. Our project will add new life to the building and allow us to be even more competitive as a regional entertainment venue.”
Recently the Southern Conference named Asheville as the host city for its men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments beginning in 2012. The games will be played at the Asheville Civic Center and at U.N.C. Asheville’s Kimmel Arena.
Click here to see the original post at the Asheville Civic Center blog.
Since pedestrians are still walking around the festival area after Bele Chere closes, officers from the Asheville Police Department stand guard at the festival barricades, keeping the streets closed to traffic. By about 6:30, when pedestrian traffic has thinned enough, festival officials put out a call to APD officers and festival staff that vendor vehicles can enter the festival area, but general traffic won’t be allowed through downtown for several more hours.
Also at 6 p.m., City of Asheville Public Works crews begin collecting several hundred trash barrels and recycling containers, bagging the trash and recyclables at the curb for pickup by sanitation trucks. Meanwhile, Parks Maintenance staff begin taking down signs, moving information kiosks, and picking up barrels used at beverage tents. Later, city-owned Bele Chere gear will be transported to a storage building at the WNC Nature Center.
By 6:45, private companies contracted for Bele Chere are disconnecting extra power lines, packing up generators and hauling away some 80 portable toilets.
An hour later, the festival is almost down to nothing but the streets and materials left on the curb to be picked up by the tent rental company and Public Works crews. The “knuckle buster” truck used by the city’s brush collection crews circles downtown picking up concrete-filled buckets lent out by the city to weigh down displays, and the night is left to the process of cleaning sidewalks and streets.
At sunset, downtown Asheville is buzzing with the sounds of leaf blowers and street sweepers. Public Works crews blow debris from the sidewalk and middle of the street to the curb where it can be picked up by sweeper trucks operated by the city’s Stormwater Services Division. Despite the fact that street sweepers made rounds every night of the Bele Chere festival, it takes multiple trips to do a thorough job of sweeping away the festival’s remnants. In Pack Square and around Pritchard Park, the areas where food was served, the streets are given extra attention with a pressurized hose.
Crews and city officials also monitor and clean streets and parking lots adjacent to the festival, cleaning a perimeter outside the Bele Chere boundaries since crowds also impact those areas.
“We’re responsible for everything that happens during the festival. It’s our baby once it’s over,” said city sanitation official Henry Glaze. “We make sure everything, even outside the festival, is cleaned up.”
By midnight, once the sweepers have made their rounds and the crew chiefs are satisfied that all debris and dirt has been picked up, the city brings in a “flusher” truck, a vehicle that sprays pressurized water behind it and gives the streets one final rinse.
By morning, the Bele Chere staff still has bookkeeping to finalize, meetings to discuss how the festival went, and other details to put in place, but to the outside eye, Bele Chere is gone.
“The goal is that, once you come into downtown Asheville in the morning, it’s like Bele Chere never happened,” says festival Entertainment Director Cristin Corder-Lee.
How do you pack up a three-day festival in about six hours? After some 30 years of wrapping the Bele Chere festival, City of Asheville and festival staff have the system down to a sort of frenzied science. Multiple city departments, festival vendors and private companies all interact to make Bele Chere disappear overnight. With three main stages, hundreds of tents and thousands of attendees, the logistics involved are as detailed as putting on the festival itself.
“It truly is a massive effort,” said Diane Ruggiero, the city’s Superintendent of Cultural Arts, at a meeting to prep festival staff and volunteers for the task on Bele Chere’s final day.
By the time the festival ends on Sunday, event officials and staff have begun packing up the command center that has been located in the Exposition level of the Asheville Civic Center since Thursday. But the first thing festival goers will see coming down are the main performance stages. As soon as Sunday’s final musical acts finish their last songs, crews begin removing and packing the sound equipment, making room for the stage companies to break down the stage itself. Once reduced to their shells, the stages fold up and are hauled away like tractor trailers by the companies contracted to supply them.
“There will still be vendors packing by the time we leave,” said Production Manager Bill Clark, helping festival stage crews lower PA speakers from the Haywood Street stage.
As soon as 6 p.m. rolls around, many things begin happening at once. Vendors begin to pack up. Both food and arts vendors are well-practiced at breaking down their own booths, but festival Area Managers roam their specific sections making sure that everyone has quit selling their products and are on track to be off the streets by 8 p.m.
Almost immediately after the close of the festival, officials are piloting a fleet of golf carts through the streets to make sure all the pieces are in place for a break down that is safe and as efficient as possible. “We also want to make ourselves present and available if any problems come up,” said festival director Sandra Travis, motoring down Biltmore Avenue.
Within the boundaries of Bele Chere, there are approximately 210 trash barrels and 120 recycling bins. Still, without regular rounds by the City of Asheville’s sanitation crews, those containers would be piled beyond capacity.
Crew leader Booby Austin says teams of two crew members hit each container every 45 minutes on Friday, the slowest day of the festival, and bumped the schedule up to every 30 minutes on Saturday when crowds were the largest. They also scan the ground for litter on their routes. “If we see it on the ground, we go ahead and pick it up,” he says.
Still, at the end of the evening, after the festival day is over, crews circulate through the street with leaf blowers, piling litter along the curbs to be picked up by street sweepers. That process, Austin says, usually winds down around 1:30 a.m.
Harry McDaniels is walking in front of the Asheville Art Museum carrying a stack of Bele Chere schedules to deliver to one of the festival’s information booths. It’s details like that, large and small, that Bele Chere Area Managers have to keep on their radars for three days to make sure the festival’s moving parts operate properly.
There are approximately 15 area managers at this year’s festival, though some are doubled up for training purposes. McDaniels isn’t one of the trainees; he has been an active Bele Chere manager since its beginning more than 30 years ago. He and Gladys McDaniel (no ”s” and no relation to Harry) are two of the festival’s longest-serving managers. “I can remember when it was nothing but a couple of streets,” McDaniels says. A payroll accountant with the City of Asheville for the past thee decades, McDaniels says the festival used to be put together and staffed entirely by city employees.
Now, despite the festival’s growth, McDaniels is still running the ship around the Vance Monument and adjoining streets. Area managers are responsible for making sure set up and tear down go smoothly, checking and confirming that booths are in the spaces they are supposed to be in. They also make sure vendors stop selling when they are supposed to and don’t pack up before the festival is over.
But they also give support on the finer details, like making sure the information booth has enough schedules. “We make sure everybody has everything they need,” McDaniels says. “And they communicate to us any problems.”
Armed with a radios, area managers convey important information like incoming weather conditions to vendors, but also work as extra eyes on the street for the Asheville Police Department and Fire and Rescue, and can call in codes to the proper station in case of a problem.
“We are like the eyes and ears,” McDaniels says. “If we cannot resolve a situation, we know who can,” he says. However, McDaniels continues, there is one thing managers have in common with anyone and everyone else at Bele Chere: “We do a lot of walking.”
The streets are closed and crowded during Bele Chere, but that can’t stop Asheville Fire and Rescue from being able to get to people if there is a problem that needs its attention. That’s why two pairs of City of Asheville firefighters are roving the festival on bicycles. Bele Chere marks the only regular event during which Asheville Fire and Rescue breaks out the bikes.
Firefighters Patrick Crudup and Clem Kramer make up one of the bike teams on duty for the festival, and despite the change in transportation, Crudup says the skills they use on the scene are not too different from the ones they use every day.
“Apart from the riding, the skills we use are the ones we work on anyway,” Crudup says. Using bikes also allows the firefighters to interact more closely with the public at Bele Chere, answering questions and watching for problems. The bike patrols join the Asheville Police Department’s regular downtown unit, which also use bikes, foot patrols and Segues and was launched in 2009. Between the two bikes, the team can pack all of the gear it needs to administer aid on the scene, from blood pressure gauges and basic medications to a defibrillator and an airway bag.
The teams are also backed up by three smaller vehicles that have the capability of maneuvering the tight confines of Bele Chere’s streets. Those vehicles have the capability of transporting a patient outside the festival boundaries where a standard ambulance can take over. Another ATV can work as a hose truck in case of fire.
The AFD also staffs three first aid tents during the festival: at Patton Ave. and Church St., College St. and Lexington Ave. and inside the Asheville Civic Center. Operations are handled from the Asheville Fire and Rescue headquarters across from Pack Square Park.
It’s one of the big no-no’s of Bele Chere: Dogs simply aren’t allowed (excepting those competing in the Purina Air Dog competition.) The heat, the crowds, the noise – it all makes for an inhospitable atmosphere for dogs.
But what happens to the dogs that try to get in on Bele Chere festivities? They typically wind up in Doggie Jail. And despite the implication of incarceration, it’s actually a pretty nice place to spend the day.
Located out of the festival’s boundaries in the shade of the magnolia tree in front of Asheville City Hall, Doggie Jail has the benefit of offering a cooler, quieter environment for dogs. The covered fenced in area is on a grassy lawn and attended by volunteers from Chain Free Asheville and other organizations.
“Police tell people with dogs to bring them here,” said Chain Free Asheville founder Peggy Irwin, who had just finished signing in a new dog on Friday afternoon. “It allows people a way to enjoy the festival without abandoning their dogs.”
Instead, dog owners pay $5.00 for the first hour and $4.00 each additional hour with a daily maximum of $20. The dogs are kept in kennels supplied by the WNC Nature Center and Chain Free Asheville inside a fenced area provided by the City of Asheville, and owners are free to head to the festival.
Water and attention is provided and volunteers walk each dog outside the fence every 45 minutes. The Doggy Jail operates until 8 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sunday, so owners are required to leave a cell phone number in case they have not returned by the time closing time comes around.
Click the below link to see a video about why dogs should avoid the festival scene.
The beverage booths on the streets of Bele Chere probably don’t need to offer much more incentives to attract patrons. They do, however, have the added bonus of being completely staffed by volunteers from area nonprofits and groups that support nonprofits, who then share in the revenue while getting added community exposure. For three days during this year’s Bele Chere, members of 10 nonprofits pour beverages, take cash and interact with festival goers. Beverage sales make up a third of the festival’s revenues, and participating nonprofits can earn up to 20 percent of the money brought in. Diane Ruggiero, Superintendent of Cultural Arts at the City of Asheville explains that all of the groups’ efforts are pooled and a percentage is divided evenly after the festival is over.
Some groups, like the Benevolent Order of Does, use that money to donate to other groups. “We give money to Meals on Wheels, ABCCM and groups to support battered women,” says BPO Does Supreme President Robin Bell. Like the Does, some groups have been involved in the Bele Chere Festival for years. Others are newcomers. But they all are an integral part of the festival. ”We enjoy this. We enjoy the people,” Bell says. “We’ve been doing this forever.”
The groups selling beverages at the 2010 Bele Chere Festival are: Wild South, Brother Wolf Canine Rescue, BPO Does, XI Omega Chapter BSP, Cataloochee Ski Patrol, Phi Beta Lambda of A-B Tech, St. Johns Episcopal Church, Asheville Area Paralegals, and Engineers Without Borders.
Volunteer efforts are crucial to pulling off an event like Bele Chere. Fortunately, the City of Asheville has a large population of repeat volunteers that step forward to pitch in every year.
“We have a very loyal volunteer base,” says the festival’s volunteer coordinator Stacey Witkowski. “We have people that have been with for 15 years plus.”
The festival’s 120 volunteers staff information booths or roam the festival with “Bele Chere Information” signs, work at the children’s area and Senior Oasis, help out at the Asheville on Bikes Bike Corral. They also serve as Area Managers, festival officials who are in charge of the smooth operation of entire sections of the festival.
City of Asheville staff also give their time over the weekend to back up employees working the festival, providing support like serving lunch and dinner in the Asheville Civic Center.
The first stop for Bele Chere volunteers
But by far the longest stint as a volunteer is performed by Bele Chere board members. That group plays a large part in the year-long production of the Bele Chere festival, including the selection of artists and entertainment. “It’s year-round planning. The time commitment is really huge” Witkowski says. “And we have people that have been on the board for a long time.”
And the board’s job isn’t done when the Bele Chere begins. Over the three-day festival, the board members work the festival, moving from area to area to make sure everyone has the things they need to have a successful Bele Chere.