by Leslee Kulba
Wild West blogger
Tonight, the Asheville City Council hosted a neighborhood meeting at the Reid Center. The city is replacing an old but sturdy gymnasium and gathering place with a performing arts center some expect will have regional draw. A gymnasium and as yet unprogrammed space are to follow in Phases 2 and 3. A baseball diamond will be done away with for greenways and so forth, and the swimming pool will be replaced with an aquatic center. Somehow, I had expected the meeting to be another of those where everybody was drunk on synergy and happy to raise taxes 5% on anybody else to pay for a new energy.
Instead, there were moanings in the crowd. I sat in the heckling section. People didn’t want an aquatic center. They wanted the pool that has been a part of their cultural history. They didn’t like how kids couldn’t use the baseball diamond and basketball court. Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Director Roderick Simmons and Mayor Terry Bellamy explained the neighborhood had to share with league games and practice, if somebody wanted to reserve a space exclusively they would have to pay, and the swimming pool did require a membership card. Neighbors asked why the city let the Reid Center fall into such disrepair they couldn’t salvage it, but had to build a new, other-culturely building.
Citizens felt left out of the decision-making process. They were told that plans were not even yet in the conceptual stages for a lot of their worst fears. They felt council and staff were being dishonest, and the next time they saw anything, it would be a done deal. Urban renewal has a way of claiming Black neighborhoods. The city was catering to the artists on the riverfront. It appeared a little racist.
Hecklers didn’t like the process. They felt depersonalized having to submit questions on index cards for the mayor to pick and choose. Then, staff wasn’t answering the questions the mayor asked. The process made hecklers out of line for demanding answers and wanting give and take.