Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: Can you find out what UNC-Asheville is planning to do with the land they own on the north side of Montford with the big signs that read “Future Building Site.” As an added bonus, do you know the history of the parcel? I heard a rumor that a children’s museum was going to go in there but couldn’t get funding.
My answer: To be fair, none of the kids had any money.
Real answer: This was indeed the site of one of Asheville’s more grandiose ideas, and sadly, one that never came to fruition.
In the early- to mid-aughts, the now-defunct Health Adventure children’s museum had huge plans for this 22-acre site just off Broadway Street near UNCA. The nonprofit planned to build a $25 million children’s museum on this site called “Momentum,” but that name proved cruelly ironic.
Once the Great Recession of 2008–09 hit, donations disappeared and the plan never recovered. In 2018, I reported on the site for the Citizen Times, noting the Health Adventure spent $8 million on planning and infrastructure, including the terracing that’s still visible, but that organization filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
The Health Adventure closed for good in 2013, ending a 45-year run, after a brief stint at the former Biltmore Square Mall, now Asheville Outlets. It was a shame because the new museum would’ve been a great addition to Asheville.
Today, UNCA and the university’s foundation have put together the 22 acres for future development. The foundation bought the land, county tax records show, and then transferred it to UNCA.
A few years ago, UNCA was using the property to store construction materials for on-campus building, but today the university is keeping mum about its plans.
Crissa Requate Sinkovic, director of university marketing at UNC Asheville, provided a statement from “university leadership.”
“There are no imminent development plans for the property,” the statement reads. “The university is evaluating its options and will leverage the property to advance its strategic priorities.”
Sinkovic noted that in April 2021 the parcel received a Millennial Campus designation by the UNC Board of Governors.
“This designation increases the University’s flexibility in utilizing the property, including potential public-private partnerships that support UNC Asheville’s mission of teaching, research, and public service,” UNCA said in the statement.
One potential partner in the past was the Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts, a nonprofit group formed to push for and build a local performing arts center.
Key players with this organization, Secretary Carol McCollum and Vice President Bill Jacobs, told me recently that it was in regular discussions with UNCA about locating a new performing arts center on this site.
“From 2015 through 2022, the representatives from the Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts were in talks with representatives from UNCA about building a performing arts center at 525 Broadway,” McCollum said.
The idea was the performing arts center would useutilize about half the land, or 11 acres, McCollum said. McCollum added that former UNCA Chancellor Nancy J. Cable convened a working group to look at making this a reality.
But Cable stepped down as chancellor at the end of 2022 to take a job as executive director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill. Cable had been UNCA’s top leader since summer 2018.
“Carol and Bill have worked tirelessly for literally years to find the right premier performance space that would be good for the schools, for all of our citizens, for the region,” Cable told me in a phone interview. “They’ve worked tirelessly, and it was an honor to be alongside of them. Now those things are tabled, pretty much, until things become more sure with the university.”
UNCA has an interim chancellor right now. The UNC university system and UNCA announced in late June the formation of a 13-member committee to launch the search for a new chancellor.
I think it’s safe to say nothing is going to happen with this Broadway Street property until the university names a new chancellor and that person takes a look at it. Also, that master planning will need to conclude.
“What’s happened to the property is it’s part of their master planning process,” Jacobs said. “They’re studying what to do with it, and we were in active discussions with them for seven years.”
The Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts is still functional, by the way. They searched the Asheville area high and low for potential sites, and the UNCA site was the best fit, McCollum and Jacobs said.
But universities move slowly, and UNCA has been struggling with enrollment and retention, as we reported in December. So I wouldn’t expect a new leader to come in, wave a wand and persuade the Board of Trustees to move ahead with a huge new project on this site.
But, we’ll stay tuned.
Question: The North Carolina Department of Transportation recently made changes to the intersection of Hendersonville Road and Overlook Road in south Asheville, including new turn lanes, curbing, and a sidewalk on Hendersonville Road south of the intersection. But NCDOT did not add a sidewalk on the north side of the intersection, missing an opportunity to fill in a missing gap on that side of Hendersonville Road. (Asheville has lots of sidewalk gaps). Why didn’t they add a sidewalk there? Aren’t private businesses in the city required to install sidewalks when building? Why isn’t NCDOT held to the same standard?
My answer: I’m going to conservatively guess this is probably at least the 10th question I’ve gotten about this project. This intersection holds a strange fascination with South Asheville residents.
Real answer: NCDOT Project Development Engineer Steve Cannon said via email the idea with this project was to help alleviate congestion at the intersection of Overlook Road and Hendersonville roads.
“The design followed compliance with the NCDOT Complete Streets Policy, which requires NCDOT to consider and evaluate the need and feasibility of adding multimodal accommodations to a project,” Cannon said. “NCDOT and City of Asheville staff evaluated extending the sidewalk north of the intersection in the project area the reader mentions based on the policy.”
But it turned out to be problematic.
“NCDOT and city engineers determined not to add sidewalk to the north of the intersection due to additional property impacts, the availability of crosswalks and sidewalk accessible from the intersection to the opposite side of Hendersonville Road,” Cannon said. “Plus, the project limits did not extend far enough north to finish connecting the existing gap.”
Besides the road improvements, the DOT included 1,650 feet of new sidewalk “that connects the intersection to existing sidewalk south of the project, and added a bus-stop pad to allow the City of Asheville to construct a bus shelter at this bus stop,” Cannon added.
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.