Yesterday I heard the City of Asheville is saying Bon Voyage to Bele Chere. Today I caught up on the events by reading online articles by the Citizen Time’s Jason Sandford and the Mountain Express’ David Forbes. They’re both good articles and I encourage you to click here to read the Citizen-Times article and click here to read the Mountain Express article. You can also click here to read a great article in the Citizen Times by Mark Barrett that shows exactly how much cancelling Bele Chere will save the city. I also encourage you to click here and read my article about 11 Reasons to Visit Bele Chere.
You’ll have to click there to read the articles, but I will say I took away a curious impression from both. The merchants interviewed seemed to imply the Festival was too big and too messy. The term “resurgent downtown” was used by Mr. Sandford.
So what are the facts about Bele Chere? Well, it’s the largest free street festival in the Southeast and attracts over 300,000 people to our city every year. It was started 35 years ago when the downtown area wasn’t doing as well. And the fact is a lot has changed since then.
In 2010 Joel Burgess wrote an interesting article for the Citizen Times that you can read by clicking here. It’s a great article full of information including the average amount each visitor spent that year. But it does show a disturbing trend. Bele Chere doesn’t seem to be helping Asheville. I’d also encourage you to click here and read an Opinion piece by Randy Hammer in the same issue of the Citizen Times that seems to confirm this.
I’ve asked the Mayor, Vice-Mayor, City Council, Chamber of Commerce, and Buncombe County Chairman David Gantt for comments about this development. As of the time of this article only Vice-Mayor Esther Manheimer had responded by referring me to City Manager Gary Jackson. Bele Chere 2013 is “full speed ahead.” Concerning Bele Chere 2014 I was informed that “If and when a final policy decision is made about 2014, we will give adequate notice.” I want to thank both the Vice-Mayor and City Manager not only for the prompt response but also for their service to our community both during Bele Chere and every other day of the year. It’s a great place to live.
I haven’t been to Bele Chere that much. Maybe that’s the problem. Two years ago when I walked through it was like visiting a giant museum. There were arts demonstrations, several companies with giveaways and demonstrations, lots of restaurants, lots of live performers, and several local non-profits providing information about the services they provided for the community. To see more about my Bele Chere experience click here to read the article.
In conclusion, Asheville has outgrown Bele Chere. As hard as it is to admit, the festival and it’s 300,000 visitors are getting in the way of the galleries, restaurants, and businesses that rely on the city’s population of 80,000 and the region’s population of half a million. If times were better the city could continue to carry the burden of the festival but right now the money is sorely needed elsewhere. Times have changed and I’ll have to go elsewhere to get my street festival fix.
But there is a bright side to this picture. Despite the loss of industry Asheville continues to attract new residents who support a vibrant downtown scene. I moved here in the late eighties and it is better. I remember driving around a shuttered Grove Arcade and admiring the architecture. Last Saturday I attended the Southern Conference in the U.S. Cellular Center and then walked through the Grove Arcade.
Yes, I will have to go elsewhere to get my street festival fix. But the rest of the year I can go downtown to get my gallery, restaurant, and music fix. Bele Chere had its place in Asheville’s history and I for one look forward to see what is next. I also encourage you to click the FOLLOW button on the lower right of your screen. That way you’ll know when I receive other official comments from the Asheville City and Buncombe County.