Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I am the head of a small local nonprofit. I’ve run into a thing that feels odd to me. In looking for fundraising opportunities, I ran into publicity about the holiday parking program at the Omni Grove Park Inn. This is the one where they charge an exorbitant amount of money to park and view the gingerbread houses as a “community fundraiser.” Part of the proceeds are donated to local nonprofits (they don’t say how big a part). There doesn’t seem to be any kind of application for this for area nonprofits. When I contacted the person in charge, I was told it was full this year, and I was asked to give a bit of information about my organization to keep on file. Of course the Omni is a private organization and can give money to whoever they please. I just feel like if you are using it as an advertising point and publishing testimonials from recipients, a bit of transparency as far as how recipients are decided on is called for. Benefiting local nonprofits by application process sounds different than benefiting friends of employees or of executives who have meetings on site. So which is it? How does this system work? How are nonprofits chosen? Do they change every year? What are the details on how the money is split up?
My answer: If I had a dollar for every time I’ve run into something that feels odd to me, I could retire tomorrow. Asheville is a very rich town in that regard.
Real answer: The grand hotel’s parking rules generate controversy every year, and 2022 was no exception. On a personal note, we were going to take a visitor up there to see the gingerbread houses, but when I called ahead of time, the nice gent on the phone said the parking lot would likely be closed most of the day because that’s what they do when it fills up.
He recommended swinging by before 10 a.m. or after 8 a.m. We passed.
But back to the question.
“The Holiday Parking Partner program began when Omni Hotels purchased the Grove Park Inn in 2013, and since its inception The Omni Grove Park Inn has been honored to contribute more than $680,000 to not-for-profit partners in Western North Carolina,” Omni Grove Park Inn spokesperson Isabel Miller said via email.
That number did not include about $200,000 that was to be donated once this season concluded Jan. 2 this year, she added.
There was no free parking on the GPI property during the fall and holiday season, which ran from October through Jan. 2. The self-parking fee for day guests was $25.
“A portion of the parking proceeds are donated to the community in support of local not-for-profit organizations and also goes to funding additional staffing needs … due to increased local and regional visitation for gingerbread viewing,” Miller said, mentioning valet parking, security, housekeeping and operational supplies, among others needs. “The parking charge aids the hotel in controlling crowds to maintain the guest experience and ensure parking availability for overnight guests and those with dining reservations.”
As far as how the program works, Miller said the hotel welcomes requests for the program all year long.
“Where available, each request is put through a vetting process, part of which includes researched findings from Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau and more,” Miller said. “Seven new partners were added after the 2021 season, and partners may be added or replaced over the coming years at the hotel’s discretion.”
Those interested in becoming part of the program can call the inn at 828-252-2711 to submit a request to the marketing department.
These were the 15 Holiday Parking Partners for 2022:
- American Legion Baseball Post 70
- Asheville City Schools Foundation
- Asheville Museum of Science
- Children First/Communities in Schools
- Horizons at CDS
- Meals on Wheels of Asheville and Buncombe County
- United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County
- YMCA of WNC Camp Watia Scholarships
- Asheville Peak Academy
- Pisgah Legal Services
- Food Connection
- Asheville Humane Society
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina
- Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club Asheville
- WNC Fire Frogs
Question: It looks like $25-$35 parking fees at Omni Grove Park are now in place as a long-term policy. Not seasonal, not gingerbread house — ALWAYS. As a local I’m completely offended. They really don’t want us, but it’s an Asheville historical landmark. I guess I can drive my guests by. If the fee applied to dining, it’d be better, but how dare they stick it to everyone! Please investigate or at least expose them to all.
My answer: I’m still a little perturbed at the GPI for an ad a golfing buddy and I fell for a few years back that said something like, “Two for $89.” Now, I’m pretty sure most of us would take that to mean we’d each get to play for 45 bucks apiece, but that was not the case. We both had the privilege of paying $89 to play the course. It’s a nice course and all, but trust me, my game is not worth that kind of investment.
Real answer: The reader is partially correct in this case.
“As of Jan. 3, 2023 through March 30, 2023, the first three hours for day parking is once again complimentary,” Miller, the GPI spokesperson, said. “After that, three-six hours is $20, and six-24 hours is $25.”
Valet parking is $30 for day guests and $35 for overnight guests.
“As of March 31, 2023 through September 30, 2023, the first one hour for day parking is complimentary,” Miller continued. “After that, one-three hours is $10, three-6 hours is $20 and six-24 hours is $25.”
Valet parking is $30 for day guests and $35 for overnight guests.
As mentioned in the previous question, during the fall and holiday season, the inn offers no complimentary parking on property.
“The parking charges are aligned with our seasonal demand to aid the hotel in controlling crowds to maintain the guest experience and ensure parking availability for overnight guests and those with day guest dining reservations,” Miller said.
To be fair to the inn, before 2013, it had become a zoo during the gingerbread season. I can see where guests would not have been happy.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at email@example.com or (828) 337-0941.
I also think the parking rates are out of hand, so instead I take the bus. There is a stop right outside the front door of the GPI, and it only takes 15 minutes or so from downtown. Not to mention it only costs a dollar. The bus system here may not be world-class, but it’s not bad for a city our size, and it saddens me that people don’t even think about it as an option.
I’ve been there before when they charged to see the gingerbread houses and it was great in fact I have been several times and it was always a good experience. Most think it is just greed and to charge their guest to park plus charge the prices they do is greed. I think any hotel that charges their guest to park is ludicrous.
Having grown up here, my parents supporting GPI, I spent summers swimming in their cloverleaf pool and running up to the Sunset Terace for lunch and snacks. Could not feel more unwelcomed today. Asheville is losing its character to corporate capitalism and greed, and our city leaders do not protect us.
Asheville was once a gracious small city. No more.
Growth is hard, and we are very grateful that Omni Grove Park Inn generously supports the growth of our students in Asheville City Schools. Thousands of middle schoolers in our In Real Life After-School program, who otherwise would not have access to extended day learning opportunities such as swimming, cooking, and robotics (to name just a few), have benefited from the Holiday Parking Program fees. To date, the Asheville City Schools Foundation has received over $100,000 from the parking fees. We are so appreciative of businesses such as Omni Grove Park Inn who choose to give back.
WE HAVE NOT EATEN/VISITED THERE IN SEVERAL YEARS. MY HUSBAND REFUSES TO PAY THE OVER PRICED PARKING FEES.
Someone should make a Gingerbread house of the GPI parking garage. It would look like a printing press, printing fondant $100 dollar bills.
As the Executive Director of Food Connection, I think readers may want to hear the perspective of a nonprofit beneficiary who has been on the receiving end of these parking fees. We were selected in 2021 and again in 2022 and are incredibly grateful. These funds help us continue to rescue prepared meals from restaurants, caterers and institutions and redistribute them to our neighbors who don’t always have enough to eat.
To your point John, we did have a previous connection/partnership with Omni Grove Park Inn that existed years before we were selected. In 2017 OGPI became a regular food donor to Food Connection. We pick up their surplus prepared food several times a week from their banquets, conferences, and restaurants that they carefully pack in recyclable pans (that they purchase themselves) and label for food safety.
From what we can see they are deeply committed to caring for their community as it would be much less labor intensive to discard this food. Since 2017 they have provided over 26,000+ delicious meals (think grilled salmon, filet mignon, roasted asparagus, etc.) to our food insecure neighbors and nonprofit partners through Food Connection. This in turn has kept 13 TONS of fresh food from ending up in the Buncombe County Landfill.
While no one likes to pay hefty parking fees, we hope that people know that their money is helping organizations like ours care for the greater community.
Nothing beats GPI at a Christmas. Will gladly pay parking to experience the Blue Ridge Dining Room, trees, gingerbread, hot chocolate and overall ambiance of this landmark during the holidays.
Thank you for this clarification. The charities are awesome. That’s great news. I had called GPI and was misinformed by an employee answering the phone that the fees remained in place year round as a new policy. When I called a second time I was told they go back to 3 free hours. I was relieved and definitely concerned I had misled others. I announced the error and apologized.
That said I’m feeling the information you’ve shared was almost worth the mistake as I want to celebrate the outcome especially the charities. Way to go Watchdog and GPI! Thank you
American Legion Post 70 in Asheville has been a recipient of the generous donations from OGPI Parking Partners program for several years. The list of Holiday Parking Partners reflects OGPI’s interest in helping diverse groups to impact the community in many ways. In our case, the funds received allow Post 70 to sponsor American Legion Boys Baseball and Ladies Fast Pitch Softball teams. These state and national institution program participants learn the importance of sportsmanship, good health and active citizenship. The programs act as a promotor of equality, making teammates out of young athletes regardless of income or social status. It has also allowed us to sponsor local little league baseball and softball teams.
We are grateful for the Omni Grove Park Inn for including us as we continue to work with local youth to support a tradition begun by the American Legion in 1925. We invite all to come watch exciting summertime Legion games.
As the manager of a local non-profit baseball team in the Asheville community that benefited from a sponsorship from OGPI in 2022, I can testify that this sponsorship tremendously helped out the families and players on the team. The sponsorship helped pay for uniforms, tournament fees, indoor practice time, and other equipment like baseballs that helped offset the team dues. These players all have aspirations of furthering their baseball careers at the college level and beyond, and with the generous help from the OGPI we were able to give these boys a structured, affordable travel baseball experience where we were able to travel across NC/SC/TN and the metro Atlanta area playing in front of college baseball coaches and recruiters.
I am extremely grateful for the support the OGPI gave my non-profit in 2022, and know first hand how much they really care about serving the Asheville community!
The YMCA is grateful for Omni Grove Park Inn’s support over the years. YMCA Camp Watia’s mission is to give all local children access to overnight camp, and the holiday parking program has donated more than $43,000 to fund camp scholarships for hundreds of kids since 2018. On behalf of those campers, we’d like to thank GPI and everyone in the community who has supported this effort.
The Gingerbread House Competition is a wonderful holiday tradition and Meals on Wheels of Asheville & Buncombe County is grateful to be a charity partner in the Holiday Parking Program. The number of homebound seniors in need of service has grown so much over the last couple of years. We’ve had to increase meal delivery routes, garner more volunteer support, and need contributions to meet this increased need. Thank goodness the team at the Omni Grove Park Inn recognizes this need, not only in our non-profit but the many others included in this year’s parking program.
They should waive/validate the parking fee if you are eating there. My wife and I used to go there for special occasion dinners but not anymore. The $25 for parking plus $ for dinner/drinks is too expensive. I like the fact that parking $ is going to help different groups but they never say what %.
People have a choice…go or don’t go… Would you prefer if you had to buy a ticket to see the gingerbread houses as the Arboretum does to see the lights? Of course you wouldn’t because you are too busy looking in the mirror at yourself rather than taking the time to understand and appreciate the benefits to our non-profit community. Their testimonies of appreciation and how the parking contributions benefit the underserved are heart warming. So… STOP STOP STOP you have a choice…go or don’t go. And make no mistake… complainers are never missed but the discontinuance of these parking donations would be devastating to many of Asheville’s most in need of assistance.
Pisgah Legal Services is extremely grateful to our neighbor, The Omni Grove Park Inn, for choosing to include our Children’s Law Program as a recipient of the holiday parking program for the past two years. We are able to use their gift to help more than 6,000 less fortunate children in Western North Carolina each year to prevent homelessness, escape domestic violence and child abuse, and access health care.
United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County is fortunate to work with so many of our neighbors to do our work, including local businesses. We can never take a single one of these for granted, because each has to manage a host of demands and requests for support, especially during times like these. So when a company chooses to prioritize their community with their philanthropic investments or volunteer power we think it is something to celebrate. Thanks to contributions from the Omni Grove Park Inn, a number of nonprofits have access to resources they would not otherwise have. This includes our own work to support students and families in our seven Community Schools locations.
I’m an employee of Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County, and our organization has benefited greatly from a longstanding partnership with the Omni Grove Park. While the partnership predates my employment with the agency, I will say that my organization has been working tirelessly since the 70s to make Western North Carolina a better place to live for all families. We were originally started as a group with a focus on advocacy. Our founder realized that daily life doesn’t improve until our systems and policies improve. But over the years we’ve grown to be so much more. We currently serve 7 local schools (Asheville City and Buncombe County) with Student Support Specialists that provide stability and guidance. Our approach is evidence-based and seeks to impact every student in one way or another. We also have a more profound focus on certain students who just need a bit of help with academics, behavior, attendance, or social-emotional learning. These kids benefit from our services in a number of ways. Additionally, many of these children also attend our afterschool sites located in Pisgah View Apartments, Woodridge Apartments. We are also hoping to reopen our Deaverview after school site in the near future. What’s more, we also provide a summer enrichment program, where children are given the opportunity to zipline, participate in equine therapy, and other unique experiences. Finally, our organization operates a Family Resource Center in the Emma community – because we know that improving the lives of children doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Out of this facility we operate a food pantry, holiday toy and clothing drive, provide emergency assistance, and connect families to other area resources. We’re all about taking care of the whole child and family unit. Our organization does a lot – and has accomplished much already. But we need money to meet our mission. It is the generosity of local donors that has sustained us – especially through COVID. The generosity of the Omni Grove Park, and this program in particular, has allowed us to show up for local children. These donations have literally changed lives.
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