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sheville hopes to extend greenway near UNCA

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2/1/2013 - Asheville hopes to extend greenway near UNCA
by Mark Barrett - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Who says college students spend all their money on pizza?

Funds from UNC Asheville students, private donations and government money may help fill a gap in the greenway route from the school's North Asheville campus to downtown.

City Council recently approved an agreement to build about 1,200 feet of greenway on property on Broadway once planned as a new location for The Health Adventure. It hinges on the success of an application for state grant money.

The segment would extend the city's Reed Creek Greenway, which parallels Broadway, and would link to another greenway that parallels W.T. Weaver Boulevard adjoining the UNCA campus.

Once it is completed, the connection would allow someone to walk or bicycle from UNCA or North Asheville's Norwood Park neighborhood to a point about four blocks from downtown with minimal use of city streets.

"The students are really passionate about it. To them, what it represents is a safe and scenic path to downtown," said John Pierce, the school's vice chancellor of finance and campus operations and treasurer of the UNCA Foundation.

UNCA's student government voted last year to add a one-time charge of $10 per student to student fees for the coming academic year to raise money for the project.

Providing "a scenic and much safer way to get downtown (is) ... a good project and we believe a lot of folks will benefit from it," said Ben Judge, student government president.

Student fees will generate about $34,000 for the project. The foundation will contribute $41,000, city government $75,000, and RiverLink is raising $60,000 in private donations.

One of the appealing things about the project is, "It's not just us," Judge said. "It's really the whole community pitching in for this project."

Judge, who works as a tour guide for prospective UNCA students, said downtown Asheville "is one of our biggest selling points."

The biggest single chunk of money would come from a $200,000 grant from the state Division of Parks and Recreation. The total cost of the project is estimated at $410,000.

May open in 2014

If the grant comes through later this year, construction could begin this fall and the new link of almost a quarter-mile would open in early 2014, Pierce said.

The land to be used, encircled today by a chain link fence, lies between the intersection of Broadway and Weaver Boulevard and Catawba Street.

The UNCA Foundation bought the 8.9 acres from TD Bank last year. The bank had foreclosed on a loan on the property.

Pierce said there are still no plans for the rest of the property, but UNCA decided to go ahead and make the greenway corridor available.

"It's a combination of student interest (and) ... being a good neighbor with the Montford neighborhood," he said.

Completing the link is part of the city's plans, he said, but without outside involvement, "It was going to take several years for it to happen because there were other greenway projects that were higher on the list."

There is a sidewalk adjoining Broadway, but, "it's truly an urban experience and it's a little scary," said Al Kopf, superintendent of planning and development in the city parks deparment.

The planned path with provide "a really lovely off-road greenway experience" close to Reed Creek, he said.

The city has extended greenways in the area over a number of years. City Councilwoman Esther Manheimer remembered walking along Weaver Boulevard with a city official considering the route for a greenway when Manheimer was an intern with the city in 1997.

The southern end of Reed Creek Greenway will still be Magnolia Avenue, about four blocks north of Interstate 240. Kopf said the city plans to close that gap eventually, but timing will depend on funding availability.

During a City Council discussion of the issue Jan. 22, Councilman Marc Hunt said just completing the missing link closer to UNCA will draw significantly larger numbers of users to the entire corridor.

"We know from studying greenway efforts in other cities that once there is a full, continuous (path) over a great distance so that people can really get from one place to another, the use level really skyrockets," he said.

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