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Park restrooms in downtown Asheville should open in spring, officials say

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11/2/2011 - Park restrooms in downtown Asheville should open in spring, officials say
by Mark Barrett - Asheville Citizen Times

Samsel Architects designed this pavilion to be build at the corner of College and Market streets in Pack Square Park.

Samsel Architects designed this pavilion to be build at the corner of College and Market streets in Pack Square Park.

Kellianne Johnston watches her dog Zyke play with her roommate's dog Babygirl, far left, during an afternoon in Pack Square Park on Tuesday. 
Kellianne Johnston watches her dog Zyke play with her roommate's dog Babygirl, far left, during an afternoon in Pack Square Park on Tuesday. / Erin Brethauer/ebrethau@citizen-times.com

 ASHEVILLE -- Guy Clerici, chairman of the board of Pack Square Park Conservancy, is starting to feel more comfortable.

 The nonprofit in charge of renovating Pack Square Park has the $525,000 in hand it needs to build a pavilion with public restrooms and a visitor information desk in the park and a contract ensuring the price won't go over that amount. 

 The 1,310-square-foot pavilion will be smaller and less expensive than once planned, but, Clerici said, work should begin immediately and be finished in the spring. 

That will cross off a big item on the conservancy's to-do list, removing a barrier to some people's enjoyment of the park.

Officials with the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority handed Clerici a giant check for $500,000 for the pavilion in a ceremony in the park Tuesday.

The money comes form the county's hotel and motel room tax. An anonymous donor has provided the remaining $25,000 needed.

"There's a lot of people who don't come here because of the bathroom issue. A lot of people need that," Clerici said afterward.

The park's lack of public restrooms had led to criticism since renovation of the 6.5 acres from Vance Monument to City Hall and the county courthouse was substantially completed in spring 2010. Restrooms had been a part of plans approved in 2004.

After years of delays from fundraising and other challenges, work had been scheduled to begin earlier this year but was delayed because of concerns by nearby business owners that construction through the summer would keep customers away.

The current schedule calls for construction of the building at the corner of College and Market streets to take 4 1/2 four to five months.

Some officials at Tuesday's ceremony made brief references to the delays. But David Gantt, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, said it is understandable that not everything goes according to plan when you are trying something different.

Those who were behind building the Asheville Civic Center and Pack Place and renovating the Grove Arcade were also criticized, Gantt said, but people are glad today that those projects were completed.

"Asheville has a history of thinking ahead, of think out of the box and doing things that separate us from other communities," Gantt said.

People here are "willing to dream a little bit and maybe go a little farther out than we're comfortable with," he said.

The visitor information center will be staffed by volunteers coordinated by the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, which operates the main visitors center at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce offices on Montford Avenue.

Kelly Miller, executive director of the bureau, said the center will help keep visitors in Asheville longer by introducing them to more local attractions.

"The one thing we ... hear over and over again is, 'We didn't realize that there was so much to do here,'" he said.

The pavilion is not the conservancy's last task, however. The organization still owes city government $2 million, and Clerici says it has to figure out what kind of programming it wants to put in the park to make sure it gets plenty of use.

But, on Tuesday, he said, "I feel really good."

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