The United Way building just south of downtown was having problems with a failing retaining wall. Work continues on a replacement and should be done in about six weeks. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Not sure if you are ever in the neighborhood of the United Way building on French Broad and Hilliard avenues, but work has been going on there for what seems like a year, creating a bunker-like/fortress foundation of sorts for the building. I’m not sure whether it is a city or United Way project. Whatever it is, it’s got to be super expensive. Can you find out what’s going on there?

My answer: While we do have Seely’s Castle on Town Mountain and, of course, the Biltmore Estate — both palatial, castle-like homes — we could really use an honest-to-god fortress here in Asheville. United Way, just run with the idea. You’re welcome.

Real answer: We can’t blame the City of Asheville for this one.

“The project is ours and not the city’s,” Dan Leroy, president and CEO of United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, said via email. “The retaining wall that was previously in place along Hilliard and South French Broad was failing and at-risk of collapsing.”

Their engineers recommended removing it as quickly as possible, which they did in March.

“Since then, our contractors have been working on replacing the wall with a lower, more pedestrian-friendly design,” Leroy said. “Unfortunately, the project has been delayed by unexpected challenges, including having to shore up the foundation of the exterior staircase, moving a gas line and replacing more wall than we originally anticipated.”

It’s all progressing nicely now, and Leroy said the project should be done in about six weeks.

He could not give an exact cost as they had to make adjustments because of “unforeseen circumstances that will affect the total price tag significantly.

“I can tell you it is quite a bit more than we had hoped to spend, but we are fortunate to have a building reserve fund,” Leroy said. “That, combined with some project-specific fundraising, will ensure that the project doesn’t impact our annual community impact investments.”

Leroy said the retaining wall is “part of a longer-term effort included in our current strategic plan to ensure that our building more accurately represents and explicitly supports our vision, mission, focus, guiding principles and work culture. 

“Over the next few years, we expect to make additional improvements to the building, including (among other things) the installation of an elevator and solar panels, thanks to a successful Centennial Campaign and a generous contribution from Blue Ridge Power.”

The 31,000-square-foot United Way building, which dates to 1960, sits on 1.6 acres and has a total appraised property value of $3.67 million, according to Buncombe County property records.

Question: It’s almost September, and we haven’t really seen that many mosquitoes around here this year in the Asheville area. Were they killed off in that hard freeze around last Christmas when the temperature got down around zero? Or should we be on the lookout for an inundation of mosquitoes soon?

My answer: Thanks for jinxing all of us. But the makers of Off! thank you.

Real answer: Actually, I too had noticed this in my yard, as late July and August are usually pretty miserable for back porch sitting, unless you like slathering on mosquito repellent. But apparently, we’re not really up or down this year, mosquito-wise.

The Western Carolina University Mosquito and Vector-borne Infectious Disease Laboratory doesn’t see evidence that this is an unusually high or low year for mosquitoes. // Photo credit: Western Carolina University

“The Western Carolina University Mosquito and Vector-borne Infectious Disease Laboratory conducts routine mosquito surveillance every year,” said Brian D. Byrd, a professor, program director and principal investigator at the facility. “At this time, we do not see any evidence that this is a particularly high or low year for mosquito abundance.”

Byrd pointed out that mosquitoes have multiple ways to survive and “overwinter.”

“And different species can even withstand the freezing temperatures for short durations as eggs, adults, or larvae here in western North Carolina,” Byrd said via email. “It is reasonable to assume that the particularly low temperatures last winter could reduce mosquito populations in some areas of western North Carolina. We just don’t see any evidence of that with our mosquito surveillance, which is focused on the main vectors of La Crosse encephalitis.”

That disease is particularly nasty.

“Each year children end up in the local hospital because they have been infected with a virus transmitted by a mosquito,” Byrd said. “So, even though mosquito numbers may be low — keep up your guard!”

In general, Byrd said, the mountains don’t have “a really high mosquito abundance burden – in that we don’t often see ‘lots’ of mosquitoes for long periods of time during the summer months.

“Historically, folks from the low country would flock to the mountains in the summer to avoid mosquitoes and the diseases like malaria and yellow fever (they carry).”

Still, take precautions, he said, and use personal protection measures such as DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, IR3535 (another type of repellent found in commercial brands), and picaridin, which he said are known to be safe and effective when applied according to the manufacturer’s label.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to

3 replies on “Answer Man: ‘Fortress’ wall going up in Asheville? Fewer mosquitoes around this summer?”

  1. I’m not in the area of the United Way building often so I went to Google maps to refresh my memory of how the retaining wall looked. This proved to be quite interesting as S French Broad’s images are from last February while Hillard Avenue’s images are from this July. You get a good look at just how iffy the previous retaining wall had become as well as a look of the work in progress.

    Side note – I recently teased a friend who lives in Minnesota about the “retaining wall” he put in along the driveway of the house they just bought. It ranges from 1-3 blocks high. I told him around here that would be considered a step, not a wall!

  2. I have noticed no decrease in mosquitos. They are still attacking me in full force every evening. That said, they are minimal compared to other places I have lived.

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