It’s Christmastime, and I’m feeling generous.
With imaginary gifts, I mean. Let’s not get carried away here — I’m a journalist, you know, and inflation is crazy.
So this year, I offer, shall we say, more ethereal gifts to Asheville, Buncombe County and their citizens, with tongue mostly in cheek. Look, they need all the help they can get, even sarcastic assistance.
Let’s start with the absolute most dire needs …
Pickleball courts for everyone! I shall provide one court for each resident of Asheville and Buncombe County. In their own yard. That’s how popular this sport has become, and how dire the need.
Don’t believe me? Check out the local emergency rooms.
So many Baby Boomers have taken up this ping pong/tennis hybrid that thousands of orthopedic surgeons across the county have come out of retirement to treat the injured. More courts means more business for medical workers, and who can complain about that?
I’ve taken up the game myself this year, and I can personally vouch for this. So far, I’ve sustained a heel injury, foot pain and a pulled back muscle, and I’ve personally witnessed a broken wrist and a head injury (both from falls), and one guy who broke a foot bone while walking after a ball.
I kid you not.
If I’ve ever seen an emergency in Asheville, this is it, folks, and it’s not dinky. Sure, it’s mostly self-induced medical trauma, but pickleballers and tennis players also have been at each other’s throats. The city has tried to settle the dispute by allowing all tennis courts in the city to be striped for pickleball courts.
Pretty much no one is happy with the plan, as pickleballers want dedicated courts, and tennis players want pickleball players to return quietly to their nursing homes.
In the interest of public safety, we don’t want this to devolve into a Sharks versus Jets kind of gang throwdown featuring paddles and racquets, so the trillion-dollar expense of building all these courts will be well worth it.
Additionally, we’ll have to authorize an emergency issuance of noise-canceling headphones, as the incessant thocking sounds accompany all this pickleball madness will undoubtedly drive the few nonplayers still residing here insane. Or at least out of their houses to scream obscenities at pickleball players.
Speaking of housing, how about …
A lot more housing for the homeless. Yes, I realize we just blew most of the gift budget on pickleball, but, priorities, folks. Some may view the homelessness issue as far more important than pickleball, but you obviously haven’t been to a City Council meeting lately to hear the impassioned pleas for more pickleball courts. It’s an emergency, folks!
So I present Asheville and Buncombe County with 10 additional hotels that can be transformed into permanent housing for the homeless. Yes, I worry about eating into the hotel supply, too, but I think we can make it with a few less in the inventory.
A couple of hotel conversion projects are already underway, and that’s a great start, but the city’s last homeless count in January found 637 people were experiencing homelessness and 232 were unsheltered.
That’s a lot of people literally out in the cold, and not just to hit a plastic ball around.
In all seriousness, last week I made a donation to Homeward Bound, which is spearheading a hotel conversion on Tunnel Road, and I hope you do, too (visit homewardboundwnc.org). A lot of other fine local organizations work in this field, too, including Western Carolina Rescue Ministries, the Salvation Army, Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, Eblen Charities, and BeLoved Asheville.
I’m sure all of them would appreciate a donation.
Thinking of homeless people reminds me of a lot of folks around here who aren’t far away from that status. So what we need there is…
Affordable housing for the masses! Believe it or not, a $775,000 bungalow in West Asheville is not affordable for most folks living and working in our beautiful mountain oasis. Seriously, I wrote about a 1,600-square-foot bungalow in that trendy neighborhood selling for that much recently.
Between absurdly high rents that prevent so many people from being able to put together a down payment, and the seemingly ever-escalating prices of homes around here, housing prices are just out of reach for thousands of folks.
Don’t believe me?
In its third-quarter 2022 real estate report, Allen Tate Realtors/Beverly-Hanks Realtors noted demand for homes exceeded supply once again, with the median sales price in the nine-county WNC region rising 13.3 percent, year over year.
“That brings the median home sales price in the region to $410,000 — a nearly $50,000 increase over last year,” the report said. “In Buncombe, our most populous and in-demand county, the median sales price reached $450,000 in Q3.”
So, Santa will drop 40,000 affordable homes in Buncombe County this Christmas, and not just dinky tiny homes (yes, I know that’s redundant). But if you try to flip yours or turn it into a short-term vacation rental, the big fella is going to sit on you and squish you like a bug.
And then I’m going to sit on him.
And we weigh a lot.
Speaking of things getting squished, that reminds me of car wrecks, which makes me think of …
A completed I-26 widening project. I know, I know, I know — some of you enjoy the incomparable thrill of bouncing between Jersey barriers, dodging speeding semis and hitting your brakes so hard you snap a hole in the driver’s seat.
I mean, who doesn’t love thinking, “I wonder if I’ll survive this routine motor vehicle trip into Asheville?”
My gift to the community is eight lanes of glorious, steel-reinforced concrete wide enough for a jumbo jet to land on, or Santa’s sleigh, which could come in handy if the airport closes early.
Also, I’ll toss in replacement steering wheels for those of us who’ve shattered them while standing on the brakes for an inexplicable bottleneck as a tractor-trailer bears down on us in the rear-view.
Speaking of the airport, I bring you …
Extended hours at Asheville Regional Airport, and more parking, and better signs, and a new terminal, and … Well, you get the idea.
Whether it’s folks getting stranded in other airports because AVL closed at midnight sharp for construction, or complaints about inadequate parking or confusing signage, people ask a lot of questions about our fair airport. They’re not usually happy questions.
So Santa will drop off a huge package (preferably in a more gentle fashion than baggage handlers) including a permanently repaired runway, a new terminal and tower, a few hundred more parking spaces and enough signage to choke a flying horse.
By the way, the term “flying horse” reminds me of how knights of yore made it over castle walls, and that reminds of another need …
Electrical substations for downtown that don’t include fortress walls. Sure, we all like the lights to come on when we flip the switch, but do we really have to have a new substation smack in the middle of downtown that looks like a medieval castle?
OK, after that substation in Moore County got all shot up this month, maybe we do. Point taken.
But perhaps Duke could change the design from masonry to Kevlar?
I digress. Let’s push Duke to chip in for a nicer looking substation, or hey, maybe just an expansion of the substation already there — and already real ugly — right behind the Harrah’s Cherokee Center-Asheville.
And while we’re talking infrastructure, how about …
A rehabbed McCormick Field, Muni Golf Course and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Sure, the DeWine family that owns the Asheville Tourists is stinking rich, but McCormick Field is a municipal asset, in this case owned by the city of Asheville. Families in Buncombe and the surrounding counties, not to mention 20-somethings looking for a cheap buzz on Thursday nights, all take advantage of this facility for baseball outings and fireworks extravaganzas.
The same holds true for the golf course and the T Wolfe, maybe to lesser extents. They’re community assets that have fallen into disrepair and need some help.
At the last concert I attended at Thomas Wolfe, I got stuck in the tiny seat for an hour after the show. Trust me, it’s the seats that are small. My girth is not at issue here, buster!
While the golf course as it is might appeal to potters looking to dig fresh clay, actual golfers would like more grass, fewer trees, and greens and fairways without bare spots. The course is a Donald Ross gem with a rich history, including hosting a long-running African American golf tournament, and it shouldn’t be allowed to languish any longer.
On the baseball front, the DeWines say they’ll throw in $300,000 a year toward a loan for the $30 million in improvements, and I suspect the city, county and the Tourism Development Authority can pony up the rest.
Yes, it’s tax dough, but do you really want a homeless Ted E. Tourist out there in the wilds of South Asheville trying to fend for himself against all the other urban bears we’ve got roaming around?
Trust me, he’d get shanked in the woods near Memorial Stadium within a week, and then who would lose to the kids in the base running races? Mr. Moon?
Nothing against the Moonhead, but he does represent moonshiners, you know. Can we rely on him to show up every day?
That’s enough giving for now.
I’m sure I’m leaving some folks out who were on the “Nice” list, but I have to head out to a pickleball game.
That means I have to make sure my health insurance is up to date. Also, I’ll be taking I-26 to get there, so I need to leave two days in advance.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.