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Council’s Turn to Support Moogfest

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By Leslee Kulba-Mike Adams came before Asheville City Council to request funding for Moogfest. The presentation was a sharp contrast to what the Buncombe County Commissioners saw last week. Adams told the members of council he was “not comfortable” coming before them asking for money. His business is sound and he is capable of running it at a profit.

Had he wanted to continue the music festival, he never would have asked for public assistance, either. But what he proposed was an economic development event. At the request of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, Moogfest had been moved to April, and it will run from Wednesday through Sunday. To attract daytime visitors, the festival has been transformed from an entertainment weekend to an opportunity for career musicians and techies to network and learn.

As in the past, a host of innovators melding music and electronics will perform, and cosmologists, technicians, and artists will give presentations. Added to the mix will be film screenings, an open-source hackathon, talks by “some of the most important thinkers of today,” and an “opportunity to build, modify, and take home your unreleased Moog synthesizer.”

As planned, the event would put Adams a few hundred thousand dollars in the hole, but he believed this was the start of something big for the city. It celebrated the interface of art and technology in a way that, as Mayor Esther Manheimer noted, could make Asheville famous for more than beer and tourism.

Take-it-or-leave-it estimates of economic multipliers were shared in the staff report, but rumblings in the world of social media are indicating Adams’ hunch is correct. This year’s Moogfest has already attracted serious media attention. Reporters from Conde Naste, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, NPR, the BBC, the New York Times, Wired, and Google are already committed to covering the event; and businesses have already agreed to donate 30-100 tickets to educational institutions.

Councilman Cecil Bothwell was supportive. He contrasted Adams’ constructive proposal for meaningful engagement of robust economic sectors to Bele Chere. Adams was asking for $40,000 in cash and $50,000 in in-kind services. The city used to shell out $500,000 per year for Bele Chere, and Bothwell, a man of letters, struggled to find words to express the emptiness of that celebration.

Councilwoman Gwen Wisler took a role-of-government stance. She was the only member of council to vote against gifting public revenues to the ticketed celebration. Gordon Smith noted several events will be free and open to the public, such as a street festival showcasing media arts and live music; a technology expo; a job fair; and demonstrations and lectures by futurists, musicians, and engineers.

In another award of municipal funds, council approved two requests for Housing Trust Fund financing. Givens Estates will receive $230,000 for constructing 120 units of senior housing, and an outfit known as Beaucatcher Commons will receive $150,000 to construct six rental units in the Shiloh neighborhood.

Although Givens has a reputation for being high-class, 30 of the units will be rent-controlled for senior citizens earning 30 percent or less of the local median income. The other units will be available only to persons earning 60 percent or less of AMI. Members of council were excited at how perfect the Givens buildout was for achieving council’s strategic goals. Half the Shiloh units will be rented to persons earning 80 percent of AMI; the other half, 60 percent.

Two applicants were turned down. Mountain Housing Opportunities had requested funding for a project in South Asheville, and Biotat, LLCX had asked for assistance constructing 30 rental units for the “hardest-to-house” homeless.

In Other Matters –

Mayor Manheimer presented former racing driver Jack Ingram a key to the city for being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A native of Asheville, Ingram was praised for winning multiple races and championships. His success earned him the nickname “Iron Man.” Retired from racing, Ingram now devotes his time to charitable events and support for the racing industry. Councilman Jan Davis, who presented the proclamation, praised Ingram as a good person and friend, and bragged about how Ingram “built his own cars and then raced them to perfection.”

Once again, it was time to celebrate Darwin Day. Councilman Bothwell had the honors of introducing Jennifer Lovejoy, president of WNC Humanists. Lovejoy shared the same thoughts she shared last year, about how Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day. Lincoln was well-recognized as a liberator, but Darwin has yet to receive equal recognition for “liberating minds.” Bothwell lamented how belief in natural selection was losing ground in the US.

Another proclamation was awarded for Red Hand Day. February 12 is a UN holiday on which people the world over are asked to petition political leaders to put an end to forcing children to serve in combat. Students from various local middle schools were supposed to deliver a presentation, but they did not make the meeting due to threats of snow. The threat, in fact, caused council to alter a budget amendment for sand and salt from $75,000 to $150,000.

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