Re: Asheville’s $100m Thomas Wolfe Auditorium renovation

I have seen a show—Willie Nelson–in Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe Auditorium—and while the place looks all 1970s from the outside, it seemed like a pretty nice place on the inside.

But that was probably 25 years ago. Today, however:

Amanda Hall is not one to beat around the flaking ceiling in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

“This … place?” the Asheville resident said, using a quite colorful descriptor between “this” and “place.” “It breaks your heart. You sit here and you watch whatever’s on that ceiling raining down on these symphony performers … the acoustics in our seats up there are great, but this community deserves better. You know, I’m a taxpayer — a $100 million? Spend it, do it, fix it. Don’t do the half-way.”

Hall was in attendance the night of Jan. 15 for the big unveiling of plans for a boldly renovated Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, along with several hundred others who filled most of the floor seats. Like Hall, they were a passionate — and receptive — group, and that $100 million estimate did not dim their enthusiasm.

Of course the question is where to get the $100 million. As the Citizen-Times reports, the City of Asheville owns the building, so it will “have to take the planning lead on this.”

The vast majority —an estimated 60-70 percent—would come from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which collects the hotel room occupancy tax and then disburses grants for projects. But –if I’m reading this right—that 60-70 percent would come from only 25 percent of the TDA’s revenues, as–by state law—TDA’s product development fund uses 25% of the tax revenue for tourism-related projects, but the other 75% goes toward marketing the Asheville area.

Keep in mind this new need for hotel room occupancy taxes is being floated as the N.C. Supreme Court is considering the lawsuit against the city by a developer who wants to build a 185-room Embassy Suites downtown, but was rejected by the City Council. The council–citing concerns about parking and the concentration of hotels downtown— would later pass a one year moratorium on hotel construction.

Of course debt will be involved in this deal, and since the city is involved, a bond referendum will be on the ballot at some time. In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election this November…….

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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