Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Is it possible for the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to hire off-duty cops or a private security company to “police” the streets downtown and keep panhandlers “moving?” Maybe even the downtown businesses and hotels could contribute a reasonable monthly subscription fee. They could work with, and set up protocols with the Asheville Police Department? It seems to me that keeping this city attractive to tourists would be a great use of all that money they get. If we don’t do something quickly, and with great visibility, we might not recover from the tainted image we’ve allowed to develop.
My answer: Is anybody else thinking the TDA might want to launch an ad campaign based on the 1981 Soft Cell megahit “Tainted Love?” Seriously, just consider the lyrics:
“Sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away
I’ve got to get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me
The love we share seems to go nowhere”
And let’s not forget the chorus: “Once I ran to you (I ran), Now I run from you.” Other local towns could just add, “Now I run from you…to Brevard…or Black Mountain…or Waynesville” or whatever. This is a solid gold idea.
Real answer: What the reader is suggesting sounds very similar to the Business Improvement District that the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce has studied and is promoting, and which we wrote about earlier this year in our Down Town series. The idea there is that the downtown, or other areas such as West Asheville or the River Arts District, form a BID, which requires an extra tax on property and business owners.
Those revenues are then directed toward specific projects and services that could improve that area, ranging from security improvements to better sanitation. Asheville City Council actually approved a downtown BID in 2012, but the funding mechanism was never enacted, leaving the plan unfunded.
One sticking point in 2012 centered on the idea of “ambassadors,” who would’ve walked the downtown to help tourists with directions or recommendations while also keeping an eye on security issues. That got some locals riled up, with a few even suggesting ambassadors would morph into disciplinarians “with wooden clubs that were going to beat up homeless people,” as a former BID organizing volunteer put it to me.
Back to the present. Part of the problem downtown is the Asheville Police Department remains down about 40 percent in sworn officers, so it often does not have enough bodies to dedicate to extra or beefed up patrols. While the city can fund more officers or higher salaries, that’s not the purview of the TDA.
So the idea of the TDA outright paying for security or policing is not going to happen.
TDA President and CEO Victoria “Vic” Isley said via email everyone “deserves to feel safe, including our workforce, residents, and customers.”
“Public safety is the responsibility and function of government,” Isley said. “No one besides the government can legally police the streets, and as residents, we pay for and deserve safe, clean neighborhoods, including downtown.”
Created in 1983 by the General Assembly, the TDA statutorily has to spend two-thirds of its income on promotion and advertising and the remaining one-third on its Tourism Product Development Fund, which funds projects ranging from greenways to local theaters.
Isley cited tourism’s varied impacts on the area and how it serves as an economic engine. Residents and business owners “contribute income, sales, and property taxes that fuel revenues for the city and county to deliver effective basic services, including public safety,” Isley said.
“In North Carolina, lodging taxes paid by visitors who stay in hotels, vacation rentals, or bed & breakfasts are designed and legislated to inspire travel to respective counties for the health of our local economies, businesses, and livelihoods,” Isley continued. “And while state legislation doesn’t allow lodging tax to be used for operational expenses such as this, visitor spending in our local businesses does generate sales tax that goes to fund city and county budgets that can.”
Some companies or even residential buildings do hire private security, but their powers are limited, as they are not sworn police officers who can actually arrest someone.
Question: When will the new Fletcher pickleball courts open? And will games be listed on the Playtime Scheduler website? Will signup on Playtime Scheduler be required to secure court time? Or how is that going to work?
My answer: On a personal note, I am officially up to two pickleball injuries, although neither has stopped me completely from playing. My right shoulder and left knee just bark audibly for several days after I play and require a lot of icing. But I cannot stop…
Real answer: On an honesty note, this is my question, although several friends had asked me the same thing.
As a Fletcher resident myself, I’m happy to report the courts are open, and they’re pretty great, as they are strictly made for pickleball. The courts are located in Bill Moore Park, which is off Howard Gap Road not far from U.S. 25 and “downtown” Fletcher.
Greg Walker, Parks & Recreation director for the Town of Fletcher, addressed the reservation system.
“The courts will be first come, first serve to play on, and to reserve a court you would go to the Town of Fletcher website,” Walker said via email. “Click on the Parks & Recreation tab, then go to the Rec Desk online registration tool to reserve a court with 24-hour notice.”
I honestly found it a little tricky to get the page I needed, but it’s the facilities rental page.
The four pickleball courts are part of a courts project that also includes one tennis court, as well as one full-length basketball court and an adjoining half-court for basketball.
I’ll note that residents have to pay a $2 reservation fee on the pickleball courts, while non-residents have to pony up $4.
The location, about half-way between Asheville and Hendersonville, “lends itself to a lot of non-resident play, so we are trying to maintain court time for Fletcher residents to play,” Walker said. He noted the town also charges reservation fees for shelters at both of its parks and to reserve any of the athletic fields for practice time off season.
While you do have to reserve pickleball courts at the Town of Fletcher site, the games coming up are listed on the website playtimescheduler.com. This site is not affiliated with the town, but it’s where you can find all the games going on locally and sign up for a spot.
Playtimescheduler.com is great, as it has you rank your skill level so you’re playing with roughly comparable players, and you can find out where all the games are going on in a multi-county area, including all the games in Asheville and Buncombe County.
Check it out, and let me know if you’d like to challenge me! Just beware that as a Watchdog, I tend to chase the ball and not let go.
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 email@example.com or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.