Like any downtown, Asheville's downtown is not without its challenges. The ADA periodically surveys its membership to get feedback on what issues are of top concern to the downtown business community.
Asheville Downtown Association (ADA) members and other downtown business owners consistently rank parking as their top challenge for downtown. Both residents and downtown visitors frequently remark that it’s difficult to find a parking spot in the central business district. Businesses have indicated that they have lost customers because of the parking shortage.
The Asheville Downtown Association is advocating for both additional parking in the downtown area and improved transportation infrastructure to help ease the pressure on the parking system. Turnover of parking is essential to sustainable business in our downtown and tax revenues for our community. The ADA is in favor of retaining the current “first hour free” policy to encourage visitation to downtown businesses.
•The UDO does not currently require parking for any development in the central business district.
•Two of the four parking garages owned by the city are nearing the end of their lifespans (Rankin and Civic Center).
•Buncombe County’s DSS project will include a 650-spot parking garage open to the public nights and weekends only. Scheduled opening is 2018.
•The City of Asheville currently is not doing any land banking of land to build future parking facilities
Pedestrian Safety and Walkability
In 2012, the Asheville Downtown Association developed a Walkability Study for downtown Asheville. A 2015 update to the study added the South Slope. The study highlights areas in the central business district that are unsafe or difficult for pedestrians, including those with disabilities. The ADA submitted both the study and the update to city staff. While many of the most significant safety issues have been fixed, many larger problems remain. Several sidewalks in downtown need considerable repair or complete replacement.
Walkability is not only important in growing our residential base, but in drawing additional commerce downtown as well. Across the nation, citizens and businesses are returning to urban cores and walkability is considered the top amenity.
ADA and the Downtown Commission are working jointly with the city to develop a priority list and identify funding sources for these projects. It is estimated that the cost to complete the entire list of issues is $2,000,000.
Short Term Rentals
The Asheville Downtown Association recently surveyed its members regarding Short Term Rentals in Downtown Asheville. Attached is the full report of the results.
Of approximately 325 members, 71 responded to the survey, approximately 22%.
80% believe Downtown is an appropriate area to allow STRs, with 60% responding that they feel the City should regulate these rentals. Of these respondents:
- 70% feel STRs should adhere to the same health and safety standards as other lodging properties
- 50% would like to see the number of STRs regulated in downtown
- 40% believe STRs should be subject to additional taxes or fees
- 40% answered other and responses can be viewed on the attached report
**(percentages are approximate)
We recognize that downtown is a neighborhood, as well as a commercial district, and believe that fulltime residents are a key component to a successful urban core. They support businesses, nonprofits and arts/culture organizations, helping sustain a healthy and vibrant downtown.
We also agree with Downtown Commission that Council should take appropriate steps to prevent developments from initially identifying as residential properties, then allowing STRs after project approval.
An appropriate mix of uses is vital to the sustainability of our downtown as a neighborhood. This issue is complex and nuanced and we ask that Council consider the long-term health of downtown as it works toward developing policy. Clarity and consistent enforcement of any policy is of utmost importance. We urge you to review the full survey results including the comments made by association members.
Whereas downtown businesses consistently identify the need for more parking for both customers and workforce as the primary challenge of remaining successful in downtown, the Asheville Downtown Association supports investment of a new parking deck for downtown and will continue to advocate for this need to the City of Asheville, County, TDA, and other potential partners.
ADA has also identified transit and transportation alternatives as closely related to the challenge of parking. The recently adopted budget provides significant funding for increased service on current routes, new busses, and additional Sunday service - important steps but inadequate in addressing the identified needs of surveyed businesses. We encourage Council to continue to prioritize transit funding in future budgets and seek parking solutions now.
Soon the ADA will survey downtown businesses again, this time including inquiries of employee parking needs and hours, pitfalls and costs to employees that are ticketed and penalized to keep their jobs, and collective, solution based input.
As the City begins the process of updating the Transit Master Plan, we encourage staff to consider a transit option, workforce parking agreement, or park and ride service that serves downtown workers.
Downtown hosts thousands of workers every day and the viability and sustainability of businesses depends on their ability to retain workers. If our parking shortage continues to cause issue for these workers, we are concerned about the impact on downtown businesses.
Homelessness and housing shortages are issues increasingly faced by municipalities nationwide. ADA will continue to work with resource providers, government staff, elected officials and community leaders to identify solutions that will increase the availability of housing for workforce and homeless members of our community.
Cleanliness has again become an issue in our downtown. Initial efforts by the downtown cleaning crew yielded improvements. Recently ADA is hearing escalating complaints from both visitors to downtown and business owners. Cleanliness is paramount to the brand of downtown, and if not addressed, will quickly lead to a decline in visitation, property values and tax revenues.
Since cigarette butts tend to be the most common litter found on downtown streets and sidewalks, the ADA suggests increased fines for littering and asks the city to include more butt disposals on trash receptacles. Recently, the ADA was the recipient of a Keep America Beautiful Cigaretter Litter Prevention grant, and partnered with the City of Asheville, to install new cigarette waste receptacles throughout downtown.
City of Asheville and Buncombe County governments must invest in downtown infrastructure to grow the tax base and sustain downtown’s viability. The Asheville Downtown Association and Downtown Commission believe it’s critical to prioritize infrastructure projects in the central business district.
As the center of government and commerce, downtown sees tremendous use not only by residents of the city, county and neighboring communities of Western North Carolina, but also tourists. Also, because of its density, downtown is one of the largest contributors of city property and sales tax revenues, the main revenue stream for the city. Infrastructure improvements can attract both additional private investment as well as help to sustain downtown’s current business community.
Recently, voters supported a bond package for transportation, parks and recreation, and affordable housing projects. Only ~$1 million of the $32 million in transporation funding was dedicted to downtown infrastructure.
Asheville City Council members indicate that they are proponents of small, locally owned businesses in downtown. The ADA sees improved infrastructure as a means to show this support by ensuring safe, easy access to downtown businesses.
Asheville has seen an increase in crime and the ADA Board supports the creation of a central police district that will allow for 24-hour coverage of an expanded and growing downtown area by downtown unit officers, rather than augment shift coverage. Nuisance crimes, include littering, graffiti, noise violations and public intoxication, are frequent in downtown and can be more difficult to prosecute because they are often unreported. The Asheville Downtown Association encourages business owners and residents to utilize the the Asheville App or the Asheville Police Department’s non-emergency number to report these crimes.