The Fight to Save 11 Acres of Downtown

 The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library presents a six part series

Asheville in the 1980s: 

A  Formative Decade Told by Those Who Shaped It

The first program of the series kicks off Wednesday April 27, 2016 from 6:00 to 7:30 in the Lord Auditorium, lower level. All events are free and open to the public. The program is sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

Save Downtown Asheville & the Wrap.

Moderators: Jan Schochet, Wayne Caldwell and Peggy Gardner

“Asheville’s scale is small enough that one duly diligent person can know it intimately. It’s a city with heart,” wrote Wayne Caldwell in his perspective of a small rag-tag bunch of Asheville citizens effort to stop city hall. (“Rattlesnakes,” published in 27 Views of Asheville, 2012.) “But ever since the train came in 1880, people from ‘off’ have been moving here, which means someone’s constantly trying to force their idea of ‘better’ on it.”

Asheville from the east. K246-5

Asheville was in sad shape following its decline from the prosperous fifties. And a lot of effort was put in to bettering it. Come to the North Carolina Room and read article after article, from one end of the 1960s straight through to the other end of the 1970s on Asheville’s redevelopment/revitalization efforts.

Chilton’s News Stand and Bargains, Inc. on north side of College Street, 1980. L806-DS

In 1977 Asheville City Council created its own Revitalization Commission. The commission–local residents and business volunteers–worked hard. They were charged by then Mayor Ochsenreiter to “get it done.” In 1978 the council adopted a revitalization plan based on historic preservation and incremental development.

“Asheville Times” Aug. 9, 1977

Things were improving, even if slowly. Until March 13, 1980, when the dust hadn’t even settled from the demolition of the block of buildings on Patton Avenue.

The Asheville Citizen headline that day read:

“Giant Downtown Complex Proposed: Plan Includes Hotel, Mall.”

Asheville City Council and its Revitalization Commission had reversed course. Everyone, just about, was for the mall–The Chamber of Commerce, the Housing Authority, the Asheville Citizen, WLOS TV, Mission Hospital, the “Committee of 36” a newly formed citizen study group, the Mid-City Merchants Association . . .


“Asheville Times” July 29, 1980


“Asheville Citizen” Sept. 9, 1980


“Asheville Citizen” Sept. 9, 1980



SDA.development plan
“Asheville Citizen” October 15, 1980


“Asheville Citizen” October13, 1981


Some people must have felt the ground beneath them was shaking.

A protest group formed within a week, calling themselves, Save Downtown Asheville. Wayne Caldwell was chairman.


SDA.startedAlong with it, native Peggy Gardner had the idea for an educational, art installation of wrapping the entire area in cloth to help give people a visual sense of the area to be demolished. Two hundred people volunteered.

Peggy Gardner’s project to “wrap” in strips of cloth tied together, all of the buildings in an 11 block area that would have been demolished under the Strouse Greenberg & Co. downtown mall complex proposal. Photo by Annie R. Martin, April 19, 1980.

Pressures were endless. Vanguard Management Corp. of Atlanta had recently purchased Coxe property on Patton and Wall Street and announced that if the city failed to give solid support to the mall proposal, the firm might withdraw their plans to renovate their new property.

Councilman Walter Boland then announced his solid support of the project siting the “opportunity to make Asheville a regional retail center, combined with plans for a convention hotel connected to the civic center and for an office complex in the area. This gives us an opportunity to do something that would really put Asheville on the map in a very favorable way.”

Vice mayor Ralph D. Morris Jr. said, “In my mind, this is the best thing to happen to Asheville in a long time. If it flies, we’re talking about three years of a torn-up downtown. But in the end, you’d have something super for the entire area.”

Councilman Harold F. Brownlee also said at this point that, he was “ready to solidly support it.” Mayor Roy Trantham and Councilmen Jack Cole, H.C. Wilkes and Norma Price had not given a statement at this announcement. (Asheville Citizen August 9, 1980.)

The first official step. After two official reports showed directly opposing conditions, the Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission with a 5-1 vote (William Moore against) ruled the that 11-block area was blighted. That was 85 buildings and included buildings with current certificates of occupancy. As Wayne Caldwell put it, “Seventeen acres. Amazing.”

A town hall meeting was held at First Baptist church so the opposing sides could air their views. meeting
“Asheville Citizen” October 23, 1981


To float a $40 million bond, it had to pass a bond referendum–a general vote. The vote went to the citizens on November 3, 1981.

Caldwell says, “There was a time when this project would or would not have flown on the word of the city manger. It would simply have been announced. I really think that the folks at city hall thought they could ramrod one more project. Thank God they were wrong.” The bond proposal for the mall failed by  nearly 2 to 1.

If you were in Asheville at this time and voted for the mall, against it, or were undecided, please come to this program. We need more views on this complicated time in Asheville’s not so distant past. We need all views. All had hopes for the city. Many things got in the way–money, time, hopes for something different, good and bad politics and differing views. We just can’t forget about it.

Looking back now on a vibrant downtown, with restored historic buildings, it’s easy to be grateful that things went the way they did. But most Asheville residents even today don’t know how it was volunteers for Save Downtown Asheville who defeated city hall and saved 11 blocks of our current downtown. The mall proposal and “Save Down Asheville” both seem to have been forgotten.

Caldwell noted that “for nearly two years SDA attended every meeting of city council, the housing authority, planning and zoning, and the Asheville Redevelopment Commission. They made notes, spoke at public hearings and civic clubs, asked council for money (which they never got), talked, organized, wrote letters, etc..  People gave two years of their lives to defeating a dragon. They deserve better. A historical marker. A key to the city.”

If you worked  for Save Downtown Asheville or participated in The Wrap, come let us give you the thanks you deserve.

MS184_001E Comp L-3 Courtyard
Lexington Avenue Courtyard in the 1980s. Even though it was already renovated, it, too, would have been demolished. MS184.001E Comp L3.


The Save Downtown Asheville Collection is housed in the North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library, MS216.

**If you would like to record your memories, thoughts and recollections of Asheville in the 1980s, at the night of each program, we will be signing people up for appointments. WCQS has offered to record all who would like to do so at their station. The recordings will be archived in the North Carolina Collection.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

Asheville in the 1980s series continues with:

Wednesday May 25: Businesses, Restaurants and Food Stores. Moderator: Rob Pulleyn

Wednesday June 29: Social Activism & Social Agencies. Moderators: Ann Von Brock and Ellen Clarke

Wednesday July 27: Arts, Theater & Music. Moderators: Deborah Austin and Phyllis Lang

Wednesday August 31: Downtown Housing & the State of Buildings. Moderators: Kevan Frazier and Erin Derham

Wednesday September 28: Politics and Civic Engagement. Moderators: Leslie Anderson and Becky Anderson


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