Filed under: Planning and Development

U.S. Cellular Center prepares for audience of conferences and trade shows

The U.S. Cellular Center continues to evolve and make upgrades to improve downtown Asheville’s largest entertainment venue. Already, the U.S. Cellular Center has made strides in attracting big name acts and sports. Sold out shows like the annual Christmas Jam continue to garner national attention, while the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament recently announced that it would continue to take place there through the 2017 season.

U.S. Cellular Center General Manager Chris Corl inside the ExploreAsheville.com arena.

And while the most visible construction project remains the refurbishment of the front entrance and lobby, another upgrade inside will enhance the center’s ability to expand into another market as a convention center.

Thanks to an $800,000 award from the Tourism Development Authority, the U.S. Cellular Center is renovating its 87,000 square foot convention space and adding seven breakout meeting rooms. Additionally, renovations on the banquet hall have already been completed. That, says the center’s General Manager Chris Corl, will make it more attractive to national conventions.

“Just getting the word out about the renovations has generated interest,” Corl says. Conventions represent a significant revenue source, and unlike most big entertainment events, they take place during weekdays. That means more active days inside the center and more business during typically slower months.

“This helps with our goal of having no ‘dark days,’ and to make us have less of an off season.” Corl says.

Drawing convention and trade show crowds to Asheville also has an economic impact to the city, and the U.S. Cellular Center’s downtown location means that visitors there will also spend money in nearby restaurants and shops, and stay in local hotels. Such a boost, Corl says, is estimated to produce 5,025 additional hotel room stays in the first year.

“This is a great opportunity to showcase Asheville’s downtown,” Corl adds.

As an added attraction, the breakout rooms will double as club seating for events in the center’s arena. For events like the SoCon tournament and concerts Corl expects there to be a big demand for club seating.

Construction on the convention area and rooms is expected to be completed this winter.

The U.S. Cellular Center is undergoing many enhancements now and in the near future, including a new basketball court, new restrooms, box office and lobby reconfiguration and more thanks to funding from the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, U.S. Cellular. Additional funding from the ABC Board contributes to educational programming.

For information about the U.S. Cellular Center, including upcoming events and venue information, go to www.USCellularCenterAsheville.com.

Leave a Comment June 6, 2013

Reaching Out Together to address homelessness and illegal camping **VIDEO**

As the temperature rises, so do reports of illegal camping in Asheville. Many of these campers are experiencing some level of homelessness.

In addressing the problem of illegal camping, the Asheville Police Department and the Asheville/Buncombe Homeless Initiative is partnering with service providers to make sure people in the camps are informed about local options like the VA Medical Center, ABCCM Veterans Restoration Quarters and A HOPE. The following video, “Reaching Out Together,” highlights a push to reinforce the relationships between the homeless, local service providers and police.

Camping on public property is illegal and a problem from the aspects of both health and public safety. Camping on private property without consent of the property owner is also illegal. When complaints are received from the community, APD gives campers a seven-day notice to pack up their camps. The notification includes contact information to help people get in touch with available service providers.

“We don’t want to go in there and just kick someone out. The overall goal shifts from plain enforcement to letting them know what the available resources are,” said APD Officer Jackie Stepp. “And that we want to see them get off the streets. I think most people appreciate that approach.”

In the video, APD officers, ABCCM Veterans Restoration Quarters, AHOPE and City of Asheville representatives visit illegal camps to find common solutions that work for groups that are often perceived as being at opposing ends of the homelessness issue.

Click here to see more videos on the City of Asheville’s YouTube channel.

Leave a Comment July 3, 2012

Development Services builds on positive customer feedback

ASHEVILLE – The Development Services Center is continuing its emphasis on providing excellent customer service by seeking regular feedback from the people it serves.

Staff recently issued an online customer service survey to gauge their performance. The goal is to keep doing what customers say is working and to improve in areas that customers felt were lacking.

Development Services is the umbrella name for the development assistance and regulation provided by five city departments: the Building Safety Department, Planning & Development Department, Transportation & Engineering Department, Water Resources Department and the Asheville Fire & Rescue Department.

Building Safety Director Robert Griffin, who oversees the Development Services Center, said his staff will continue taking surveys about every other month and that surveys are also being created for inspections and other services.

“We’re establishing a cross-functional team to look at customer service, work flow, and any other identifiable improvement area for recommended changes,” Griffin said. He added that this team will be facilitated by someone outside the development process.

CoA Development Services

Building Safety Director Robert Griffin stands next to a shelf of submitted development plans.

The overall feedback in the first survey, the results of which came back just recently, was positive. The majority of respondents (about 83 percent) came to the center to submit or pick up permits. Of that pool, some 94 percent said they were greeted promptly, and 83 percent said staffers were helpful and polite. Some 66 percent said they were able to meet with a city staff member within 15 minutes of their arrival at the center.

Respondents who met with a Development Services Center Plan Review staff member assessed them very highly: 88 percent said plan reviewers were professional, and 82 percent said reviewers were helpful and polite. Moreover, 94 percent of respondents said staff explained processes to them in a way they could understand.

In response to some respondents’ concerns about sign-in procedures and wait times, Griffin said front counter staff has been reorganized.

“Their additional function is to make sure every customer is signed in, receives service, and is updated when the time is longer than anticipated,” Griffin said.

He added that the center has changed the intake process for certain permit types to allow customers to have information entered into the computer system in a more timely way.

One survey respondent wrote of being impressed by a staff member’s work ethic: “The plan reviewer I met with said he needed to come back into work later that evening to catch up with paperwork. I was surprised that a public employee cared that much. With no pay.”

To learn more about the Development Services Center, visit: http://1.usa.gov/qoFtm3.

Leave a Comment September 6, 2011

City staff among recipients of ‘Excellence in Public Service Awards’

ASHEVILLE – The Greater Asheville Public Service Council recently recognized the most outstanding government public servants with the Excellence in Public Service Awards.

The awards were presented to county, city, state and federal employees who went above and beyond their normal job performance in 2010.

The City of Asheville honored nearly 70 employees from a wide variety of departments. The winners in the 12 award categories were announced in April at the city’s Excellence in Public Service Awards ceremony. These staff members were then invited to the Greater Asheville Public Service Council breakfast ceremony in late May.

Awardees are selected by an internal panel of the past year’s winners.

Hank Dunn, president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson, and David Pattillo, associate director of the Charles George VA Medical Center, presented the awards in each category.

Fay L. Smith, Library Technician with the United States Air Force’s 14th Weather Squadron was chosen as the overall Outstanding Public Servant of 2011.

Thanks to the work of the employees listed below, hundreds of thousands of dollars were saved, work was done more efficiently and Buncombe County is a safer, greener, healthier, smarter and kinder place to live.

City of Asheville Landscape Architect Seth Hendler-Voss receives his Excellence in Public Service Award for Outstanding Professional Employee.

Outstanding Executive Manager

Cathy Ball, Public Works director, City of Asheville

Ed Sheary, library system director, Buncombe County

Dr. Jack St. Clair, business manager, Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center

John J. Bates, PhD, National Climatic Data Center

Outstanding Manager

Jerry Yates, streets operations manager, City of Asheville

Jill Moffitt, director of campus recreation, UNC Asheville

Outstanding Supervisor

Trevis Allen, assistant fire marshal, City of Asheville

Renee Gossett, social work supervisor, Buncombe County

Nicole Lynch, health care supervisor, Black Mountain. Neuro-Medical Treatment Center

Micheal Hunsucker, chief climate operations, U.S. Air Force 14th Weather Squadron

Outstanding Professional Employee

Seth Hendler-Voss, landscape architect, City of Asheville

Bryan Dillingham, network manager, Buncombe County

Kathy Wallace, creative arts specialist, Black Mountain. Neuro-Medical Treatment Center

Helen McVade, information security, U.S. Air Force 14th Weather Squadron

Outstanding Administrative Support Employee

Gina Zachary, administrative assistant, City of Asheville

Joy Pelto, paralegal, Buncombe County

Marcia Hipps, administrative assistant, District Attorney’s Office

Anne Markel, administrative assistant, National Climatic Data Center

Outstanding Trades, Crafts, and Service Maintenance Employee

Gordon Silvers, apparatus senior specialist, City of Asheville

Carolyn Nash, housekeeper, UNC Asheville

Outstanding Technician, Assistant or Aide

Megan Shepherd, special projects coordinator, City of Asheville

Anthony Perrone, graphic designer, Buncombe County

Justin Page, senior designer, Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College

Fay Smith, library technician, U.S. Air Force 14th Weather Squadron

Outstanding Team

Asheville Public Safety Wireless Network Team

Buncombe County Detention Facility STORM Team

Outreach Dental Services – Black Mountain Neuro-Medical Treatment Center

NCDC Finance and Acquisition Branch

Hoyt Abney Outstanding Community Service Award

Lora Morgan, administrative assistant, City of Asheville

Vanessa Grant, staffing specialist, Charles George VA Medical Center

Adam Reagan, applications specialist, UNC Asheville

Outstanding Contribution to Improving Diversity

Kelley Webb, fire department public information officer, City of Asheville

Tina Carroll, community director, UNC Asheville

Outstanding Heroic Act Award

Lee Morrison, motor equipment operator III, City of Asheville

Lisa Beasley, income maintenance caseworker II, Buncombe County

Suzanne S. Turner Unsung Hero/Heroine Award

Mike Dixon, laborer, City of Asheville

Dr. Cynthia Yancey, medical director, Buncombe County

Mark Clegg, social worker II, Black Mtn. Neuro-Medical Treatment Center

Douglas Williams, human resource specialist, Charles George VA Medical Center

2 Comments June 27, 2011

Historic Resources Commission to launch E-newsletter

Asheville’s historic structures and landmarks play a big part in its draw and appeal to both residents and visitors. With some 46 local historic landmarks and four local historic districts, as well as those listed on the national registry, the city enjoys 108_0878architecture from multiple significant historical periods. The preservation of those homes and buildings led to the formation of the Historic Resources Commission which, alongside the Historic Preservation Division of Planning & Development, reviews changes to the exterior of designated structures to ensure the integrity of historic districts and landmarks.

The HRC, formed in 1979, is made up of of members appointed by Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners, and meets once a month to review applications and discuss guidelines for historic districts.

To keep the public up to date on the evolution of the HRC and the facts surrounding National Historic Districts and landmarks, the HRC is preparing to launch its own E-newsletter. “We want to reach out and educate people about what it means to live in a historic district as well as keep people up to date about changes,” says Stacy Merten, who serves as staff liaison to the HRC and as Director of the Historic Resources Division of Planning & Development “We are in the process of evolving the HRC guidelines and the development approval process and we want to spread the word as much as possible.”

Recently, application submittals for Major Work Certificate of Appropriateness and review of Minor Work applications for Certificate of Appropriateness was moved to the City of Asheville’s Development Services Center located in the Public Works Building at 161 S. Charlotte Street to bring them under the same roof as other city permits.

117_1743Last year, the HRC updated its design review guidelines for the Montford Historic District to address community concerns, and potential updates are being discussed for the St. Dunstan’s Historic District.

And an upcoming initiative co-funded by the Historic Preservation Trust Fund and Buncombe County is expected to add ten acres and 35 structures to the Downtown National Historic District.

“There’s just a lot going on,” Merten said. “And the commission saw a chance to keep people up to speed.”

May is National Preservation Month, and to mark the occasion, the City of Asheville will host a talk by renowned Historic Preservation expert Mary Ruffin Hanbury on the benefits and strategies of preservation planning. The talk will be held May 26 at 5:30 p.m. In the Pack Library Activity Room.

To be added to the mailing list for the Historic Resources Commission E-newsletter, contact Christy Edwards at cedwards@ashevillenc.gov.

3 Comments May 18, 2011

Planning Liaisons Connect with the Community

Asheville residents are known to pay close attention to planning and development issues in their area, and no one has a better handle on the makeup of neighborhoods than the people who live in them. That’s why the City of Asheville’s Planning and Development Department has a group of planners who regularly interact with residents, neighborhood associations and other groups to hear ideas about growth and development.

City of Asheville community planners

Assistant Planning Director Shannon Tuch and Urban Planner Alan Glines at a Haywood Road Corridor meeting in April that was also attended by representatives of the Community Relations Division and the Office of Sustainability. Glines is the Planning Liaison for West Asheville.

Teams of Community Planning Liaisons are assigned to five sections of the city to focus on listening to input and use it to determine neighborhood priorities and help direct planning efforts. They are also a point of contact for land use and development questions. The program, begun about 18 months ago, has already resulted in an increased level of interaction between residents and city staff. And, says Planner Jessica Bernstein, residents have a first line of communication with the Planning and Development Department that can help navigate the department and city ordinances.

“[Planning and Development Director] Judy Daniel wanted each section of the city to have a point of contact,” says Bernstein, who serves as liaison for North Asheville. “If they have a question, we can get them to the right person to talk to. They have a go-to-guy.”

The Planning and Development Department also assigns a “Planner of the Day” (POD) each day to field calls or talk to those who come to the Department, and direct them to an appropriate city staffer that can address their concern or question.  POD’s are assigned at City Hall and at the Development Services Center, as those locations each tend to get different types of questions.

Meeting with community members and having an ear open to feedback also helps the department identify trends and issues from the community, and have a chance to get residents thinking about planning and development issues long before a draft document comes to Asheville City Council.

“So often, when planners were seen in public, they were presenting development staff reports,” says Planner and Central Asheville liaison Blake Esselstyn. “We felt it was important to get neighborhoods involved with development, and we could take a proactive role in making that happen.”

Community liaisons share notes with each other to find trends that are common to all neighborhoods or issues that may cross over into two or more different sections.

So far, says Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford, residents have responded enthusiastically. “We get calls regularly,” Stickford says. “It really does foster this idea that we’re all in this together.”

Stickford, who works in the city’s Community Relations Division, regularly takes note of upcoming neighborhood association and other community meetings, and makes sure that the appropriate community planner is notified. She encourages organizations that meet about planning issues to contact her so she can pass the word along to the right person. “If we know they are out there, we can make that connection,” Stickford says.

To contact Neighborhood/Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Stickford about a community or neighborhood meetings, call (828) 259-5506 or email mstickford@ashevillenc.gov.

Click here to see a map of the City of Asheville’s Community Planning Areas.

Click here for details and contact information about the City of Asheville’s Planning Staff Community Liaisons.

1 Comment May 5, 2011

Homeless Initiative partnerships help get people into homes

Recently reported numbers show that, in 2010, 65 people experiencing homelessness in Buncombe County were placed in, or were in the application process for, permanent housing, reports Amy Sawyer, coordinator of the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

That, Sawyer says, represents successful progress in advancing the Homeless Initiative and the 10-year Plan to End Homelessness endorsed in 2005 by Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Commissioners. The 10-year Plan to End Homelessness operates on the Housing First model, where people experiencing homelessness receive financial assistance and supportive services needed to access housing, and preventative steps are taken to address families and individuals who may be at risk of losing their homes.

The news comes as a result of the work and collaboration of the Chronic Homelessness Partnership, formed by the Homeless Initiative Advisory Committee in 2009 to respond to the idea that using evidence-based practices to focus attention on those who regularly need the assistance of costly emergency services can go a long way toward addressing area homelessness.

The partnership, led by the Advisory Committee, made up of the Buncombe County Human Services Team, the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the City of Asheville Housing Authority, the City of Asheville, Homeward Bound and Western Highlands.

“In just over a year, this group has knitted together existing resources in order to help some of the hardest to reach people access permanent, supportive housing,” Sawyer says.

Additionally, the Asheville Police Department, with the assistance of the City of Asheville’s Community Relations division, has placed additional focus on the effort to identify likely candidates for housing by assigning officers to facilitate communication with partners in this collaboration effort. Like the above agencies involved in the Chronic Homeless Partnership, APD officers can share important details about people who are using the greatest amount of services and are most in need of housing stability.

The combined effort, Sawyer says, is unprecedented in the region and means more sharing of information across disciplines and more effective delivery of services while avoiding redundancies, ultimately resulting in a reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

“You really can’t overstate what this kind of collaboration means in the effort to get people into housing,” Sawyer says. “Everyone has to be tuned in and able to communicate in order to identify those who most need assistance.”

To pursue its mission, the partnership team reviews potential clients brought to the table by each member. Selected participants are invited to join the project and, if they agree, work with housing case managers to apply for a housing subsidy through the Housing Authority and/or access other rental assistance provided through grants from the City of Asheville and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

House managers continue to work with clients after the move in to connect them with services like job and financial counseling, child care, veterans services or even treatment for mental health and addiction to ensure long-term housing stability. For people entering the program, access to these supports is vital. So far, the over 90% of people entering the program have maintained their housing.

Sawyer reports that, in 2010, 46 people moved into a mixture of public, voucher and other forms of housing. Another 19 were in some stage of the application process. A Point in Time Count at the beginning of 2010 indicated that, with the help of other housing programs in the community, 305 people were in permanent supportive housing.

Click here for more information on the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative.

2 Comments February 23, 2011

Walking the walk

Asheville walkability tour
City planners, elected officials, engineers and students from around the United States toured Asheville on Wednesday, Feb. 2 as part of a Town Makers Discovery Tour organized by the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute and Local Government Commission and guided by City of Asheville Planning and Development staff.

The Town-makers’ Discovery Tour, held in advance of the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Charlotte, took participants through Asheville, Charlotte, Belmont, Kannapolis, Cornelius and Davidson.

The event, said City of Asheville Urban Planner Alan Glines (pictured above), was an opportunity to display Asheville’s achievements in walkability and to explain ongoing initiatives to improve pedestrian and bicycle access in the city. The tour took the group through downtown Asheville, West Asheville, the River District, Biltmore Town Square and Biltmore Village.

Leave a Comment February 4, 2011

Asheville Buncombe homeless point in time count takes place Wed. January 26

The annual point in time count that tracks the demographics, causes and population of those experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness in the Asheville and Buncombe County community takes place on Wednesday, January 26. The count, which is used to provide accurate data about the state of homelessness in the community, constitutes a partnership across multiple city and county departments, agencies and stakeholders.

From the Asheville-Buncombe Homeless Initiative blog:

This number reflects an estimate derived from the annual Point in Time Count. This year the count takes place on Wednesday, January 26th. Staff from homeless agencies, volunteers, and people who are experiencing homelessness will work together to count everyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness on the night of January 26th.

In addition to shelters and other housing programs, the Buncombe County Department of Social Services, Buncombe County Jail, police from Asheville, Montreat, Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Woodfin, and Weaverville, the Mission Hospital, the Charles George VA Medical Center, United Way’s 2-1-1, and agencies that provide crisis services to people in our community will help with the count.

Data collected during the count includes demographic information, causes of homelessness, where people are sleeping, and information about chronic homelessness, veteran status, and other subpopulation data. The count will include individuals and families staying outside, in shelters, and in other housing programs for people experiencing homelessness.

See the entire post here.

Leave a Comment January 25, 2011

Public weighs in on River District’s transportation future

A presentation at Asheville-Buncombe Technical College on Saturday Jan. 22 offered a glimpse at what could be the future of transportation in Asheville’s River Arts District, and attendees had the chance to give their input into how they envision changes in the corridor.

The presentation was the first in a series of public input opportunities and the latest step in the planning and design phase that has so far seen extensive informational and outreach sessions with community stakeholders, committees and project partners.

River District Transportation Meeting

Members of the public browse conceptual maps of transportation options in Asheville's River Arts District at the Jan. 22 presentation.

“We’ve had over 30 meetings and presentations since the kickoff of the planning process [in June 2010],” said Stephanie Pankiewicz, of LandDesign, the company contracted by lead consultants Wilbur Smith and Associates to conduct the input process. “We are trying to make sure we interact with a range of interests and community members.”

Asheville city staff and council members were invited to see a preview of the information on Jan. 21.

The River Arts District Transportation Project addresses a 2.2-mile section of the larger Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan adopted by Asheville City Council in 2004 and focuses on portions of Lyman Street, Riverside Drive and surrounding properties. A series of maps, photos and overlays at the presentation showed opportunities for alternative street alignment, greenways, bike and river access and on-street parking. See literature associated with the River Arts District Transportation Project here.

River District Transportation Project

Public input is being collected for the project, which is centered on areas around Lyman Street.

Over the course of the next year, there will be several more opportunities for members of the public to weigh in on their preferred design alternatives, followed by a public hearing in 2012.

City of Asheville Transportation Planner Dan Baechtold, who was on hand to answer questions at the presentation, notes that such input is critical to the larger planning process, one that is intended to expedite the implementation of the riverway plan as funding is identified.

“This study is one step in a long process, but it is an important step. Completing the required environmental study and preliminary design will put the city in a position to seek money for construction,” Baechtold said. “Many of the available funding sources require projects to be ‘shovel-ready.’ At the end of this study we will have made the critical engineering decisions to be ready for those funding opportunities.”

Click here for more information on the River Arts District Transportation Project.

Click here for information on the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay Plan.

Public input for this session will continue to be collected until Feb. 23, 2011 and can be sent to SPankiewicz@landdesign.com.

Leave a Comment January 24, 2011

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