Reality Check: Asheville taxpayers foot the bill to resod downtown park every year
It's supposed to be a renewable resource, but every year the City of Asheville rips it up and throws it away.
It's the grass on Roger McGuire Green, and it's costing taxpayers thousands.
"I am writing this email to try and find out why the City of Asheville chooses to re-sod the green area next to Pack's Tavern every year. This has been going on for three years now, I know, and the grass continues to die due to the amount of traffic it receives," one News 13 viewer wrote. "Would it not be cheaper on tax payers for the city to place this area in turf?"
The city's tried other alternatives, but is resigned to replacing the grass every year, unless they hear from you, the taxpayers.
“This is the one day a year people can get really good food,” said Marty Gillen, Hardlox Jewish Heritage & Food Festival organizer.
In Asheville, Jewish delicacies are hard to come by. Once a year, the Hardlox Jewish Food and Heritage festival's 250-foot delicatessen fills the need in Pack Square. but it runs out of food as fast as the festival runs out of vendor space.
“Could we grow, maybe?” Gillen wondered.
“I don't know if there's a better way to reconfigure that park. We look every year, because if I had that space, I could do more food vendors. I could do more of everything,” Gillen said.
According to the city, festivals, including Hardlox and over 50 others, make a $2.7 million impact for vendors and the local economy.
“They can test their products. They can gauge how their products are doing against competitors. They can learn from other vendors and learn new strategies from marketing,” Jon Fillman, an Asheville Economic Development Specialist, said.
Here's the problem -- for some festivals, expanding into the park from the paved drive toward the grassy area known as Roger McGuire Green isn't ideal.
“Because it wasn't set up for festivals. It was set up for people hanging out,” Gillen explained.
They say it's better suited for Shindig on the Green or Movies in the Park. But as those events thrive, something else is dying.
'It takes a beating'
“This is that time of year,” said John Gavin Parks, Planning & Development Manager.
For the last three Decembers, crews have ripped up Asheville's front lawn, devastation resulting from a healthy festival season.
“Our average event is over a thousand people,” Fillman said.
If you multiply that times 68 permitted outdoor events during the peak of summer heat, the grass takes a beating.
“The irrigation is turned off at times during the summer due to events, right when the grass needs water the most, so it takes a beating,” Gavin said.
News 13 learned that before rolling out a new lawn, the City of Asheville has tried alternatives to tearing it up.
“In years past, we have basically aerated and reseeded and kept people off of it and let the seed take hold,” Gavin explained.
The city has had little success.
“Re-sodding is the best option,” Gavin said.
So, again, crews rolled out a new welcome mat. This year's blue grass fescue is a bargain at $14,700 of taxpayer green. Past bills have grown as high as $17,000. The three-year total is nearly $47,000, which is money the city admits it could spend on other park and rec activities.
City leaders pointed out it could be worse.
“Some events do destroy sod, a green in one event,” Gavin said.
While it's not feasible to replace the grass for every festival, some organizers suggest the city be more choosy, by only allowing events, like concerts and movies on that section.
News 13 questioned the city about a more durable surface. Knoxville's World's Fair Performance Park has a reinforced lawn with concrete underneath. That park closes for several weeks in mid-summer for intense watering.
“Certainly, it may be something to consider,” Fillman said.
Before that would happen, the city said they'd want the community to weigh-in.
“We would take that to the community as a whole, and we would come up with those solutions together,” Gavin said.
While the city says it's something to discuss, they haven't scheduled any discussion. Parks, Planning and Development officials say every year they try and program in some breaks for the lawn, but can't seem to give it enough rest.
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