Success Story: Flood Management Wetlands

Asheville transportation project integrates green infrastructure to manage flooding

Project Purpose

The River Arts District in Asheville, N.C., was vulnerable to flooding due to its location within the floodplains of both the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. Prior to the 1970s, a combination of industrial, commercial and residential uses dominated the area. The neighborhood featured over 1,000 homes, churches and Black-owned businesses. Many of these structures were condemned and demolished during the “urban renewal” movement of the 1970s (River Arts District Artists, 2022). Decades of public disinvestment in the area followed. The City of Asheville used the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project to improve the transportation network, reinvigorate the area and manage flooding on-site.

Quick Facts

  • The River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project, focused on rebuilding the transportation network on the east side of the French Broad River, included multiple major resilience components. The project installed two stormwater wetland sites, a network of stormwater infrastructure and several acres of public parks. Asheville also upgraded and hardened the power transmission network in the project area and added bike lanes and multi-use paths along the banks of the French Broad River.
  • The area now known as the River Arts District has a tumultuous history that includes white settlers removing Cherokee from their land, African Americans enslaved on farms and the 1970s urban renewal movement that put an end to the land’s thriving Black community.

Spotlight on Equity

The River Arts District land holds meaning for many people of color. In the late 1600s, white settlers displaced a Cherokee community and, throughout the 1700s and 1800s, established roads, farms — some of which enslaved African Americans — and commerce. A major flood closed some companies in 1916. In the 1970s, the urban renewal movement put an end to the land’s thriving Black community, closing and demolishing over 60 Black-owned businesses, seven churches and 1,000 homes. Residents had to relocate across Asheville, to other cities and to other states (Urban Renewal Impact, 2021). 

To highlight this history, the River Arts District now hosts a section of Asheville’s three-part Black Cultural Heritage Trail, unveiled in December 2023. River Arts District stops honor Matthew Bacoate, Jr., who, among other accolades, served as the general manager of Asheville’s first Black-owned and operated manufacturing business, which was located in the River Arts District (Explore Asheville, 2023; Explore Asheville, 2024; Asheville Chamber of Commerce, 2022).

Green space in Asheville’s River Arts District. (Source: Andrea Webster/NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency)
Green space in Asheville’s River Arts District. (Source: Andrea Webster/NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency)
Key Info
Location Asheville, N.C.
Estimated Costs $30 - 45 million
Published March 1, 2024
Project Contacts
Dustin Clemens
Capital Projects Innovations District Program Manager
City of Asheville, Capital Projects Department
dclemens@ashevillenc.gov
(828) 575-3851
Stephanie Dahl
Urban Design and Place Strategies Manager
City of Asheville, Planning and Urban Design Department
smonson@ashevillenc.gov
Related Resources
Tab/Accordion Items

  • The community began discussing plans to revitalize the riverfront in the 1990s. The first major planning concept for the area was envisioned in the 2004 Wilma Dykeman Riverway Master Plan.
  • Financing for the project was not immediately available and implementation was further hampered by the Great Recession. Nevertheless, local interest remained.
  • In 2015, the City of Asheville approved the River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project (RADTIP), a major transportation project at the center of the River Arts District, following the confirmation of a federal Transportation Improvement Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) II/VII funding award.
  • The City employed a small staff dedicated to advancing the RADTIP’s plans, build-out strategy and fund sourcing. Staff conducted public outreach and finalized the design with planners and engineers. Outreach during the planning process involved design workshops and virtual and in-person gatherings. These events highlighted local artists and celebrated the project following major milestones, including a groundbreaking.
  • In 2016 and 2017, bids for project construction came in higher than expected. In response, the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority voted to invest an additional $4.6 million.
  • Construction began in 2017 and the RADTIP grand opening took place in 2021 (City of Asheville, 2023).

  • TIGER VI grant provided around $15 million.
  • In addition to the TIGER VI grant, funding strategies included debt financing. Funding also came from the Buncombe Transportation Development Authority ($7.1 million), NC Department of Transportation, NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund (now the NC Land and Water Fund), NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and the City of Asheville.
  • In 2018, the Tourism Product Development Fund provided $500,000 for the Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail.
  • Asheville’s fiscal year 2021-2022 budget included $250,000 to hire seven additional Parks and Recreation staff for a partial year to provide maintenance services for the new infrastructure. The budget also included an additional $154,000 for a full year of maintenance for RADTIP maintenance (City of Asheville, 2021).

City of Asheville Planning and Urban Design Department, Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, Buncombe County Transportation Development Authority

  • The project features a 2-mile-long traditional stormwater management system and two constructed wetlands. The effort also converted nine previously developed acres to parks. The City designed all projects to accommodate flooding.
  • The nine acres of parkland includes inviting public spaces and improved access to the riverfront.
  • The project upgraded and hardened the power transmission network in the River Arts District.
  • In addition to roadway improvements, multi-use transportation upgrades included a 17-mile greenway, widened sidewalks for pedestrians, additional bike lanes and a section of protected bike lanes.

Delivering a large, complex project took decades and was realized only following continued attempts at securing major funding that acted as a catalyst for the project. Large capital projects may have an easier time finding funding when they are structured as discrete, measurable parts of a larger plan. 

Large planning projects should involve members of the community at every stage. One interesting way that this project honored members of the community was to source public art from local artists.

Asheville Chamber of Commerce. (2022, November 2). Asheville Chamber honors local living legend with portrait. Retrieved from https://www.ashevillechamber.org/news-events/asheville-chamber-honors-local-living-legend-with-portrait/

City of Asheville. (2004, June). Wilma Dykeman Riverway Master Plan. Retrieved from The City of Asheville: https://www.ashevillenc.gov/department/planning-urban-design/plans/small-area-plans/

City of Asheville. (2023, March 29). RADTIP Grand Opening in the River Arts District. Retrieved from City of Asheville: https://www.ashevillenc.gov/department/planning-urban-design/strategic-development/river-arts-district/

Explore Asheville. (2023, Decmeber 19). Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail Unveiled in Momentous Community Celebration. Retrieved from Asheville.com News: https://www.asheville.com/news/2023/12/asheville-black-cultural-heritage-trail-unveiled-in-momentous-community-celebration/

Explore Asheville. (2024, February 8). Asheville Black Cultural Heritage Trail Brings Focus to Black History in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Retrieved from ExploreAsheville.com: https://www.exploreasheville.com/articles/post/asheville-black-cultural-heritage-trail-brings-focus-to-black-history-in-the-blue-ridge-mountains/

River Arts District Artists. (2022, October 14). History of Asheville's River Arts District. Retrieved from River Arts District Artists: https://www.riverartsdistrict.com/history/

Urban Renewal Impact. (2021, June 18). History of Blacks in Asheville. Retrieved from Urban Renewal Impact: https://urbanrenewalimpact.org/