5/3/2012 - Asheville's Lexington Avenue tabbed as one of state's 'Great Main Streets'
by Romando Dixson - Asheville Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE -- With more than 30 businesses packed along a stretch of Lexington Avenue downtown, the array of shopping, dining and entertainment options are as plentiful as they are eclectic.
Some would say no main corridor here says "Asheville" more than Lexington Avenue, with its unique selection of local clothing stores, restaurants, record stores and tattoo shops.
A panel of experts representing the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association agrees its a place to be celebrated and named it one of the state's "Great Main Streets," along with Charlotte's Tryon Street, Edenton's Broad Street and Hillsborough's Churton Street.
"All of these 'Great Main Streets' are walkable, interesting and alive," said Fleming El-Amin, president of N.C. Chapter of the American Planning Association.
Ben Hitchings, president-elect of the association N.C. chapter, said the association was impressed with the grassroots effort throughout the years to revitalize Lexington Avenue, which was among 75 streets nominated.
"They worked over time to turn it into a wonderful, interesting and dynamic place," he said.
About 30 years ago, a Pennsylvania development company proposed to knock down 11 blocks of downtown centered on Lexington Avenue and replace it with a mall-like complex.
Tim Wilson, of Tops for Shoes, said he's glad a bond issue for the city's portion of the cost failed in a 1981 referendum. The Asheville native said "it would've been a disaster from the beginning."
Now, Wilson says, the city has the local themes and thriving local businesses that represent the city and make it a tourist destination.
"It's just an electric feeling downtown," Wilson said. "You wouldn't get that with a mall structure in the center of downtown. It would've killed the uniqueness that has now made Asheville what it is."
A ceremony is planned for later this month in each community to recognize local planning efforts. Hitchings said this is the first year of a program which builds on a national idea to celebrate great places.
A nomination for Lexington Avenue described it as "alive with activity and a great metaphor for what Asheville is as a community... the street has become a cultural vibe of downtown and the main canvas of street art, local shopping, local food, local beer and local celebration.
"The street itself is an example of functional and successful street experience with minimalist design," the nomination said. "It includes an almost continuous facade of storefronts along the sidewalk, occupied by an eclectic variety of shops, clubs, galleries, and restaurants, as well as residential and office uses."
The panel was also informed about the mural under the Interstate 240 bridge and the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival, which celebrates all things Asheville.
"It definitely has the most character out of all of the streets downtown," said J.D. Collette, who works at Static Age Records.
Gastonia's Main Avenue was tabbed as a "Great Place in the Making." Six other cities were selected to compete in a online competition. Voters selected Mount Airy's Main Street as the People's Choice in an online contest in which 1,700 votes were cast. Mount Airy won by four votes over Southport. Voting ended at 5 p.m. Monday.