Asheboro focuses on the future
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Asheboro focuses on the future

Posted on 01/16/09

Contact:  Tammy O'Kelley, Director of Tourism

ASHEBORO - Despite the gloom of recent media reports, Asheboro is shaking off those weary-world blues to focus on the future.

"We have all the same issues as everyone else. We're a Southern mill town in transition. You can sit around and dwell on the bad news or you focus on what needs to be done," said David Smith, Asheboro City Council member.

The city has reason to be optimistic, Smith said. For the last eight years, Asheboro government and community leaders have honed in on rebuilding its downtown, especially along Worth Street, Sunset Avenue and Fayetteville Street.

Smith said the city invested in expanded parking, streetscaping and decorative lighting. He said the result is a gem that sparkles with unique shops, new restaurants and pedestrian-pleasing sidewalks.

An obvious example of Asheboro's determination to move forward is Bicentennial Park, Smith said. Located directly behind downtown shops on Sunset Avenue, the property was once an abandoned bus station and a storage area for a concrete facility. Realizing it was an eyesore, downtown merchants and the Asheboro/Randolph Chamber of Commerce raised money to purchase the property. Smith said organizers also set up a lease agreement with the Norfolk-Southern Railway Company. The concrete storage area went away, opening up a large expanse that could be converted into an open greenway,

The City of Asheboro designed and installed a park on the property. Asheboro and Randolph Rotary groups combined forces to build an open-air stage. Today, in addition to the covered stage, the park features a fountain, a rotating sculpture exhibit, parking and plenty of benches for weary shoppers or area workers who need a refreshing break from the workday.

With the stage came summer concerts. Smith said the musical events regularly attract between 600 to 3,000 visitors.

Last summer, after much work from area business and community leaders, Asheboro lost its designation as North Carolina's largest municipality without alcohol. Enter new possibilities for restaurateurs. Now visitors to the antique magnets in downtown Asheboro can stop for a light meal of hot dogs and brew or they can opt for a more upscale white-linen experience. A wine shop opened recently, too, Smith said.

Smith said the city is working on renovating the historic Sunset Theater. Preliminary work has made the circa-1930 theater usable for showing old movies and hosting intimate gatherings of 200 or so who come together to enjoy live jazz, blue grass and gospel singing. An estimated 17,000 visitors have taken advantage of the programs offered at the theater since it reopened.

Around the corner on Worth Street, Randolph County is carrying on with its commitment to renovate the historic County Courthouse. Constructed in 1907, the courthouse was used up until a new facility opened in 2002. The old courthouse was shuttered, stabilized and has since undergone a number of inspections to determine its suitability for continued use.

Although officials consider the courthouse the premier possession in its historical inventory, the county has not diverted general fund money to the project from a very tight 2008-09 budget. However County Manager Richard Wells said county officials have discovered an innovative way to keep the work going.

Like many North Carolina counties, Randolph County's buildings and inspections department has seen a marked decline in construction activity. Normally, that might mean laying off inspectors or reducing workweeks. Instead, Wells said county inspectors complete any assignments that come in and then devote the remaining hours of the day to painting and carpentry work at the old courthouse.

"These guys are very qualified building professionals," Wells said. "They are totally committed to doing the best job possible and the county gets the advantage top-notch work we simply could not afford otherwise."

Wells said there are a number of possibilities for renting office space when the renovations are complete. Representatives of the Randolph County Economic Development Corp. and the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) have already expressed an interest.

TDA Director Tammy O'Kelley said she is excited about the possibility of housing her office and an expanded visitor center with retail space at the old courthouse. It's just another example of all that Asheboro and Randolph County have to offer, she said. Plus, anyone who visits either of those potential occupants in the future will have to drive through downtown Asheboro. They won't be able to miss seeing what the city has done to improve the area.

The growth doesn't stop at Asheboro's city limits, O'Kelley said. As the TDA designed and edited the 2009 visitor's guide, O'Kelley said the number of opportunities for vacationers really hit home. The world famous Seagrove area potters have not only maintained their numbers, they've increased the number of events they now offer, she said.

O'Kelley said Randolph County has long been known as the birth place of NASCAR with legendary racecar driver "King" Richard Petty holding court at his museum in Randleman. What visitors might not realize is that they can also take in an exciting evening of go-kart racing at Liberty Racetrack or thrill to the newly constructed dirt bike facility, Zoo City Motor Sports, just south of Asheboro's city limits.

The rest of the world discovered "green tourism" last year in a time of expensive oil. Randolph County has farms that have been touting those benefits for decades and, in some cases, generations, O'Kelley said. Located near Liberty, Rising Meadow Farm, opened in 1993, and Goat Lady Dairy, started in 1996, are both working family farms offering visitors a chance to get back to the country to see sheep and goats, shearing operations, cheese-making and more.

In the last year, agri-tourism in the county has increased tremendously, O'Kelley said. For example, Whitaker Farms in Climax offers hayrides and tours of its greenhouse and in-field tomato operations and its livestock barn. Old Plank Road Alpacas, a fifth generation family farm that started breeding alpacas in 2003 on U.S. 220 Business, allows visitors to reach out and touch these exotic, gentle animals.

South of Asheboro near the internationally known N.C. Zoo, Sunny Slopes opened its farm gates to over 200 acres where dozens of endangered or nearly extinct domesticated animals graze.

"At a time when so many places are worrying about what they are losing, Asheboro and Randolph County are gaining," O'Kelley said. "Our convenient location in the middle of the state and our abundant recreational opportunities mean people don't have to cut vacation time out of their budget. They can explore a world of fun opportunities right here in the Heart of North Carolina."

For more information on vacation and recreational opportunities in the Asheboro area, contact the Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau at (336) 626-0364 or go to HeartofNorthCarolina.com.

The Heart of North Carolina Visitors bureau is the official destination marketing organization for Randolph County Tourism Development Authority representing Archdale, Asheboro, Franklinville, Liberty, Ramseur, Randleman, Seagrove, Staley and Trinity, North Carolina.

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