TDA grants additional $4.6M to fund River Arts District upgrades

Dillon Davis
The Citizen-Times

ASHEVILLE – Buncombe County’s Tourism Development Authority said Wednesday it will grant an additional $4.6 million to fund infrastructure upgrades for the River Arts District development project.

The grant provides funding for the city of Asheville to complete the southern section of the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project, focused primarily on a portion of Riverside Drive as it flows into Lyman Street from the old 12 Bones site to Amboy Road.

The money adds to an existing grant through TDA to include roadway improvements, sidewalks, street trees, a protected bike lane, on-street parking, stormwater improvements and public art near the development.

The new Explore Asheville office at 27 College Place in the Asheville Executive Office Park in downtown Asheville at the intersection of College Street and Town Mountain Road.

Wednesday's addition brings the total TDA funding for the development to $7.1 million, which includes more than $2.5 million in existing grants and $975,000 for the Beaucatcher Greenway.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer addressed a room Wednesday at the Explore Asheville building following a joint meeting of the public authority and nonprofit corporation. Manheimer hailed the partnership between the city and TDA as beneficial in getting the project completed.

"It's a wonderful project for our local community and, of course, it's going to benefit the tourism community, so it has a lot of crossover," she said. 

The River Arts District overhaul is expected to transform an industrial district of the city to a multimodel system with bike lanes, greenways and other walkable space. It also sets the table for a mix of public and private investment to better the long-term prospects of the once-derelict district. 

The city's $60 million plan – which has varied in size and scope since it was estimated at $50 million in 2015 – is the largest capital improvement project in Asheville's history.

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Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer addresses the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority on Wednesday.

The plan ran into trouble in the spring when bids came back at $76 million, $26 million higher than the 2015 estimate. The City Council indefinitely delayed portions of the project, including greenways on the west bank of the French Broad River, east of Clingman Avenue and through the Southside neighborhood.

A "complete streets" project to improve pedestrian safety through that area with some of the city's poorest households was also delayed.

A key portion of the project along Lyman Street with a greenway, bike lanes and sidewalks faced cutbacks.

Money from the TDA through the Tourism Product Development Fund is generated by a portion of hotel room tax revenues from overnight visitors in Buncombe County. TDA said it has awarded $34.5 million to 34 community tourism projects since the fund was established in 2001.

Area organizations with the exception of private businesses are eligible to submit applications to the TDA to receive consideration for funding.

TDA said it received eight applications for its most recent funding cycle. Four were invited to submit Phase 2 applications. One decided not to move forward, the organization said. Other awards made during the meeting include:

  • $200,000 to relocate and expand Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center to a new location at 120 College St. on Pack Square Park. It includes 2,500 square feet of exhibition and event space, a permanent space for the college's history, an expanded library and a research center, among other amenities. 
  • $72,500 for the Haywood Street Congregation Fresco Project, set to install artwork covering a wall at 297 Haywood St. Asheville artist Christopher Holt will create the fresco. BCTDA said the Haywood fresco will help "strengthen cultural and heritage tourism in the region."
  • Separately, $937,000 is pending for the LEAF Cultural Arts Project, a year-round cultural arts institute and event center in downtown Asheville. The board said questions remain about its building plan and more information is required before moving forward with the project.

Explore Asheville President and CEO Stephanie Pace Brown reported lodging sales in August were $34,973,379, up 9.2 percent from the same month in 2016. For 2017, lodging sales sit at $73,563,887, an increase of 7 percent year-over-year.

Hotel occupancy rates and the average daily room rate also were up in the month, 0.3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

Citizen-Times reporter Joel Burgess contributed to this report.

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