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.
Important strides have recently been made with regarads to parking - the Buncombe County Coxe Avenue deck opened and offers 24-hour public and monthly parking options; the City has installed smart meters allowing customers to pay via credit card; the Downtown Commission's parking crawl yeilded new on-street spaces, and the City acquired a surface lot on Coxe Avenue and is offering low-cost parking options for downtown workers. Despite these positive steps, businesses still indicate that their customers struggle to find parking.
The ADA will work with partners to ensure that these new opportunities and initiatives are better publicized to downtown businesses and the public.
Pedestrian Safety and Walkability
In 2012, the Asheville Downtown Association developed a Walkability Study for downtown Asheville. The study is performed every other year with an update coming in 2019. The study highlights areas in the central business district that are unsafe or difficult for pedestrians, including those with disabilities. The ADA submits 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.
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, including panhandling, littering, graffiti, noise violations and public intoxication, are frequent in downtown and negatively impact businesses. 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. However, while enforcement is an important tool, we also understand that these types of issues need to be looked at from a social perspective.
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. Recenlty increased funding allowed for additional 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.
As the City begins the process of implementing 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 and trasit shorfalls continue 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. The City funds a downtown cleaning and pressure washing crew and some
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 believes 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.