The new and the historic meet at the River District

On a crisp but sunny October afternoon, a small group of business owners, artists and project coordinators watched as a crane lowered a new pedestrian bridge over a ravine adjacent to Jean Webb Park on Riverside Drive.

The bridge marks the first new infrastructure installed in the Wilma Dykeman Riverway plan, a sweeping plan for enhancing and preserving the area along the French Broad River that encompasses transportation, land use, economic development and riverfront conservation.

At 40 feet long, the bridge is the product of collaboration and great community leadership on the part of the Asheville Design Center and its Summer Design Build Program, which brings in students from around the country to create innovative solutions to community needs.

Because of this partnership, the city was able to receive this pedestrian enhancement at a relatively low cost of $25,000 in city funding.

“Calling this a bridge doesn’t do it justice. It is really a new public space along the riverfront that happens to span a creek,” says Design Build Studio Project Manager Luke W. Perry. “Thanks to the City of Asheville, the Asheville Design Center, the surrounding community and the students from the team, we now have a beautiful new gathering spot that will serve as a catalyst in bringing our city closer to the river.”

A quick celebration for the opening of the bridge will take place on Thursday November 14, 2013, at 3:00 pm.

Meanwhile, across Riverside Drive and in sight of the new bridge, an iconic and highly-visible smokestack at the location of the now-razed ice house, is getting a restoration job as workers re-point the mortar joints on the antique structure. Atop a cherry picker 85 feet in the air, masons are replacing the mortar that has eroded from the stack.

The restoration, needed to make the smokestack safe and to preserve it for the coming years, came at the request several community partners and with the support of Asheville City Council.

The ice house was purchased by the City of Asheville after public safety concerns and was demolished in February. But several voices, including those from the River Arts District Business Association, the WECAN Neighborhood and the city’s Riverfront Commission supported preserving the smokestack for its historic and wayfinding value. As the community works to guide the area and plan for coming changes and economic development, the city is working to preserve the unique architectural features of the River District.