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

Question: This may be a dumb question, but who is in charge of Asheville Christmas decorations? They are totally pathetic compared to even the smallest of towns. Marshall is better decorated than Asheville. Do they not have the money? Or is it the left-wing liberals just not wanting to celebrate Christmas. I guess it’s just a liberal place, and it’s how it’s gonna be from now on. I know you lean left somewhat, but Asheville should be decked out with the amount of tourists that visit here. When’s the last time Asheville bought some new decorations? How much does the city spend each year on this?

My answer: Wait a minute! Don’t blame me for this just because I lean left. That’s the beers’ fault, I swear! You try living in craft beer heaven for 27 years …

Real answer: Fair or not, this is a perennial topic of displeasure in our fair city. A few years back, the big wreaths and bows the city put up did look more tired than an overweight marathoner, but the city and its partners refurbished those gems.

Some people criticize Asheville’s holiday decorations // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Still, complaints come in every year about this.

Asheville City spokeswoman Kim Miller said holiday decorations, “like many projects or events throughout the year, are the result of partnerships within our community.”

“The city has teamed up with outside organizations for at least the last six years to provide holiday decorations for the community to enjoy,” Miller said via email. “These partnerships help cover the funds, time, installation and maintenance needed to provide the community with a festive feel, without a festive fee.”

As far as who’s in charge on the decorations front, Miller said the city’s Public Works Department “installs and dismantles the wreaths and snowflakes you see on light poles around town — primarily in commercial districts like downtown and Haywood Road in West Asheville.”

“The city has been fortunate to partner with a variety of organizations from merchants to arborists, to keep this holiday tradition alive,” Miller said. “The city partnered with the North Carolina Arboretum and Asheville Downtown Association in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 to provide supplemental decorations in Pack Square, and other areas of downtown.”

For those years, the city contributed amounts ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 per year, and paid for staffing to support installations. Other efforts also have been supported through the years.

Critics say Asheville can do better with its holiday decorations // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

“In 2017, the city partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to refurbish the city’s holiday wreaths,” Miller said, noting the cost was $38,000. “In 2018, Explore Asheville (Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority) contributed $25,000 to expand the holiday decorations display in Biltmore Village, as well as enhance the downtown displays.”

The city continued its partnership with the Arboretum on the design and installation of these displays, as well as with the Biltmore Village Merchants Association and Asheville Downtown Association.

“The displays were, unfortunately, scaled back in 2020 and 2021 due to capacity constraints of all participating organizations,” Miller said. “The city of Asheville did continue to work with the Downtown Association to install the beloved ‘Starflake’ and other supplemental displays in the Pack Square area.”

This year the city is working with the Asheville Downtown Association, Just Folks, and YMI to display decorations in Triangle Park (on South Market Street downtown), and to try a new location for the Starflake in Pack Square Park,” Miller said. “The Pack Square Plaza Visioning project has also fostered discussion as to how to expand partnerships with community organizations and enhance displays in future years.”

Among other aspects, the Visioning Project is looking at how to replace the removed Zebulon Vance monument and the best uses for the Pack Square area downtown.

But back to the decorations. Miller had some more details on costs.

“In 2021 the city’s Public Works department spent $29,871.50 on preparation, installation and removal of the decorations,” Miller said. “These costs only include labor, equipment and materials.”

Miller said Dec. 2  that the Public Works staff “will be at it again this year as they prepare the installation phase right now.”

“Totals for 2022 will be available only after the removal portion of the seasonal event, which takes place in January,” she said.

I tried to get Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer to fire off a saucy remark about Asheville’s liberalism and alleged detrimental effects on holiday decorating, but she wouldn’t bite. First, she wished everyone happy holidays.

“Second, let me thank all the city staff and our community partners that work so hard to make sure Asheville is decorated for the holidays,” Manheimer continued, via email. “The city’s decorations are refurbished and well-preserved, a goal we should all have.  And I am glad that this year, the city has an opportunity to decorate in some new areas
that might not have seen as much attention in past years.”

Question: At a 25th anniversary celebration of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation at Highland Brewing Nov. 17, Parkway Superintendent Tracy Swartout talked about how the idea of national parks started in the U.S and then spread around the world. She also said she had just been in Indonesia, and they have national parks there. President Biden was just in Indonesia for the G20 Summit, so I’ll guess Tracy was part of that event. What did she do there, and did she fly there and back on Air Force One?

My answer: I’m assuming my invitation got lost in the mail. Again. Really got to talk to Biden about all of these missed events. And don’t get me started on missing the Highland Brewing event …

Real answer: What we have here is a very sad lack of scandal.

“Your reader points out an interesting coincidence, but there is no connection,” Blue Ridge Parkway spokesperson Leesa Brandon said via email. “Tracy was on leave and traveling with family at her own expense.”

And no, she was not rubbing elbows with Biden on the big plane.

“So, no plane rides on Air Force One,” Brandon said.


[This column was updated to include Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer’s comments about holiday decorations.]

Got a question? Send it to the One, the Only, the Original Answer Man — John Boyle — at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or (828) 337-0941.

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11 Comments

  1. Kim Miller managed to fill your column with words, but no real answer as to why the decorations are lacking in pizzazz. As for the Vance Monument site, I think a live manger scene would create a lot of interest – and column material. I’m disappointed you didn’t suggest that.

    1. Along with a menorah and other religious symbols, right? Because it’s about the HOLIDAYS not just YOUR, right?

      Though I agree would be nice to have more lights hung over the roads from one side to the other.

    2. Gee — what about a Kwanza exhibit and a Menorah to boot. You feel left out about Christmas? Seriously?

  2. Since when did Christmas decorations get associated with political leanings, other than religious symbols. What a crazy assumption. I have many left leaning neighbors and they all have fabulous holiday decorations.

  3. I never associated being “a liberal” with not enjoying seasonal decorations! Hmm. Sadly, I am not able to have a Christmas tree this year because my new cat ( who is not “a liberal”) won’t allow it.

  4. What does being a left-leaning liberal have to do with the Holiday decorations? That’s insane! For all the noise and hoopla that people make about how great Asheville is, when it comes to Holiday decorations, it really is pathetic. Sad, droopy wreaths, a few lights, the shop owners for the most part keep it minimal. None of this makes for a pretty, festive atmosphere for the locals or the tourists. And since the Tourist bureau has so much money and they want to attract more tourists, they should kick in a large pot of money for decorations. Anyone who lives here or visits will be sorely disappointed with the ragtag way that Asheville, presumably an artist’s mecca decorates for the holidays. Whichever holiday you celebrate.

    1. I agree with Christine that the TDA should be paying for holiday decorations since these kinds of things puts people in our hotel beds. I also am personally offended at the statement that it is a left leaning council who is the reason for the lousy downtown holiday decorations. As a native of Asheville I remember when the city and business owners believed it was important to show off our downtown both during the holidays and in the summer (remember the hanging flower baskets through downtown). Maybe it is time for the city’s parks and recreation apply for a significant grant to the TDA fund for holiday and seasonal enhancements to downtown Asheville, because the room tax collections from downtown hotels is significant enough to warrant this.

  5. In Asheville “holiday decorations” are an oxymoron. Downtown continues its recent decline from what used to be an attractive and welcoming place year-around, and the miserable excuse for holiday decor on exacerbates the problem around Christmas. It’s an embarrassment when compared to to other cities and towns in the region.

  6. I’ll vote with the tourist bureau to kick in some ca$h to fund better holiday decor. With all the establishments existing, in progress, and (no doubt) in planning, Asheville should be able to flaunt an improved face to the tourists and esp. the locals….regardless of political/religious stance. We’re a mix of all that, so let’s get into the mix and stir up some spirit.
    How about letting the businesses’ near a pole decorate their nearest one? Collaborations could be fun, include the puns, drum up some sprite. 😉
    We put some lights out at minimum….not a grand display, but at least a nod. And we’re nowhere near the walking venues and don’t sell seasonal stuff anyway.
    Beats complaining, and puts one on the ‘positive’ pole.
    Happy Holidays, and drive careful out there.

  7. People. We can’t even have decent sidewalks and you are concerned about Christmas decorations. I, too, would like to know where the revenue from hotel taxes goes.

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