Every day, more than 17,000 cars pass through the intersection of Broadway and Woodfin, on the northern edge of downtown Asheville. There’s a new effort to steer them south and to steer motorists’ to think of this as a cultural corridor.
“The gateway entrance to the north end of downtown seemed to lack definition,” said Chris Joyell, director of the Asheville Design Center and on the core committee behind what’s called the Broadway Cultural Gateway planning project.
“That sprawling intersection is just calling for something to pull it all together and give it the grand entrance to downtown that it deserves,” he said.
The project began three years ago when the Center for Craft plotted its renovation at 67 Broadway. Center leaders saw a need to create signs, artwork and other visual elements to point passersby to the nearby cluster of cultural offerings.
Whether it’s taking a parking space and making that into a little park or adding murals or adding signage, there’s a way, on a lot of fronts, to make that art and culture more present when people are entering downtown,” said Dana Frankel, an Asheville native and a downtown development specialist with the City of Asheville.
Once the Center for Craft reopens in November, it will be a flagship among a half-dozen high-profile visual arts destinations along a quarter-mile stretch of Broadway. But the gateway project also wraps in plans to revitalize Chicken Alley and Carolina Lane—two relatively forgotten arteries between Broadway and Lexington.
Long ago a bustling street, Joyell said, Carolina Lane has long since become an alley traveled mainly by garbage collection trucks. Joyell said gateway project leaders are looking at an option of centralized trash compactors, following the model of Roanoke, Va., and other cities that have opened up alleys for other uses.
In a report funded by the Center for Craft and UNC-Asheville, gateway project leaders have recommended a range of proposals, from parklets and murals to signage. But there’s no focus or funding behind anything specific and leaders say the timeline behind any enhancements could span months to years.
“Even solutions for garbage collection could usher in a new era of peace on Carolina Lane,” Joyell said. “If we can do it in a way that creates an inviting way for the public to enter, it could spur another wave of economic development downtown.”
The committee behind the project has already met with and surveyed neighborhood stakeholders. But there are hurdles no amount of buy-in can easily solve.
For one, three different entities—the city, the state’s department of transportation and private property owners—control what happens on separate streets just within the small rectangle bordered by Broadway, Lexington, Woodfin and Walnut. Second, there are two longtime vacant and dilapidated storefronts north of Broadway and Woodfin that are the first visual elements to hit motorists exiting eastbound Interstate 240. The owners, measured by their inaction, seem disinterested in joining the chorus to improve the gateway.
“When any area sees investment or new improvements and energy around a particular effort, that can encourage the private sector to participate,” Frankel said. “The city doesn’t always have a say on if that happens or not, but I don’t see it as a frustration for the city. I think it’s an opportunity for the community to work together to achieve common goals.”