By Dennis Justice
SPECIAL TO CITIZEN-TIMES
At the last Civic Center Commission meeting, Asheville Councilman Jan Davis mentioned suggestions from another City Council member that perhaps the Civic Center Commission be disbanded. This is mainly because they're always losing members and it's hard to make quorum for meetings.
That kind of talk should stop. The reason that they have such turnover is nobody believes anything will be done about the aging Civic Center, even urgent repairs.
Didn't some council members campaign on improving the existing Civic Center? It's in worse condition now than four years ago. Remember this since the municipal races are now officially on.
The roof again was mentioned as one of many serious needs that urgently needs repair. The management stated that some contractors won't even patch up the roof anymore because it isn't worth it.
There have been concerns about catastrophic failures of the electrical system as well. That's for starters. How can management plan for repairs, and any disruptions in scheduling, without the city's go-ahead?
It was irresponsible for the city to allow a hockey team here before fixing the facility. Hockey is an obstacle to addressing the Civic Center's future. The opening night attendance is irrelevant.
No emotional response can possibly overcome logistical reality: The Civic Center can't be renovated with a hockey team in the way. To try would likely add millions to the cost.
It's far less costly to have the facility shut down for as long as it takes to fix everything. The Asheville Altitude could play at Asheville High or UNC Asheville for a while if absolutely needed. Where would the hockey team play? So putting a team in there now is the same as saying "We will not address the Civic Center."
Thinking the building "isn't that bad" is delusional. The problems with the Asheville Smoke started with arena issues long before the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) came to town.
Had hockey been here last year, as some folks wanted, the local media would have been reporting on current hockey owner David Waronker's unfulfilled promises.
Waronker folded his Miami team in midseason (and still owing their arena $137,000). Turns out Waronker's promise of $100,000 in upgrades, including "a new scoreboard and some suites" (Citizen-Times, Nov. 24, 2003) was all baloney. (Now his staff claims the arena "isn't that bad." Isn't that convenient?) No doubt hockey wouldn't have been here this year, perhaps never again.
This team was chosen over the SEHL group under the guise it was going to be "one step below major league hockey" and subsidized by the WHA (like the NBDL is to the NBA). Whoops, they changed leagues three times this year. Instead, these players have no shot at the NHL if they were demoted from the UHL and ECHL since the NHL lockout started. This team is now subsidized by emotion and an owner who already failed in several other cities. They're putting off the needs of the Civic Center for this?
There are three possible outcomes: The building is renovated/rebuilt at the current location, a new arena is built elsewhere or the Civic Center is eventually shut down as too great a legal liability. All those outcomes, by contract, will void the hockey lease (if they don't fold first).
The proposed facility at the WNC Agricultural Center wouldn't field sport teams and couldn't replace the Civic Center, so the Civic Center is the only game in town. There are several funding possibilities, from working with Fletcher on a joint room tax increase, getting FEMA grants to make the building usable as a regional disaster shelter, etc. But nothing will happen if City Council refuses to take this building as seriously as promised.
Would you drive a car with balding tires? In an emergency? Maybe. To spin doughnuts in the snow? No way.
It's shameful that the last time a regular Asheville resident attended a Commission meeting was more than a year ago. (It's every fourth Monday of the month, 4 p.m., Civic Center Banquet Hall.)
Take the safety and future of the facility far more importantly than a photo op and some beer sales downtown.
Dennis Justice runs wncsport.com, an independent sports Web site. He lives in Fletcher.
Web posted on Nov. 4, 2004