By Johnnie Grant –
A piece of downtown real estate that once housed an automobile dealership in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s has taken on a new designation.
You might know the property as the “Pit of Despair,” but now, city officials would like you to call the property across from the U.S. Cellular Center “68 Haywood Street.”
Last year Asheville City Council approved temporary use of 68 Haywood St in accordance with advice given to them by an organization named Project for Public Spaces. Their recommendation for all cities with temporarily unused land is to generate “quick, light, cheap” activities in these spaces in order to get public input on longer-term uses.
The Haywood Street Visioning Task Force, under the direction of the Asheville Design Center, indicated in spring 2016 that those “quick, light, cheap” venues would be part of their process. ADC Director Chris Joyell projected there would be activity on the site as soon as the construction trailers for a nearby hotel left that August. Although a few activities occurred like the auditions for American Idol, which generated a lot of buzz, the space has otherwise remained basically unoccupied.
Former Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell told The Urban News, “I pushed for the Public Spaces project in spring of 2017 and got City Council agreement. City of Asheville staff turned ‘quick, light, cheap’ into a $70,000 project, and said they would be ready in November 2017. I complained and asked why on earth ‘quick, light, cheap’ would take so long. Things were sort of speeded up.”
Bothwell explained that by late August the city was ready to solicit ideas. “At least eleven groups wanted to stage events in the space. I formed the People’s Park Foundation and we began some informal use in October, but cold and wet weather soon curtailed that.”
Bothwell and his allies anticipate being back in the spring with such activities as “yoga, knitting in the park, lectures, and hop-scotch.” He also pushed for reasonably priced food truck licenses to use the four electric hookups that had been installed. That use was approved in December and this week the first food truck started operation.
“The People’s Park Foundation is committed to activating the park in the near term, and raising funds to build out the park in the future,” said Bothwell.
Long-term plans are in the works to turn a collection of city-owned lots into parks that will include structures for shops and other functions. Meanwhile, city officials want to bring in temporary activities to liven up the area—and the food trucks just might do that.