This interview is the first in a series on the economic development associated with greenways in Buncombe County. Connect Buncombe’s Leanna Joyner spoke with Smoky Mountain Adventure Center owner Stuart Cowles about his business along Amboy Road and what greenways mean for his business and the community.
What drew you to this property or location for your business?
The story really starts 24 years ago when I chose the downtown location for Climbmax. It seems cheesy, but I couldn’t open in warehouse district outside of town, even though the height of the building would have been more appropriate to the climbing gym business. It was a conscious decision to open on Wall Street because it was part of downtown Asheville. As the downtown location of Climbmax grew over the years, I started thinking about looking for another home for the business. I looked at warehouses all over, down near airport, and other locations, but none of them were part of Asheville in my mind.
When I looked at this property on Amboy Rd., I decided this was the place for a second location because this is where Asheville goes to play. This is where people of all colors and all abilities to go play outside. They come here to enjoy our number one natural resource, the river, and to enjoy the park alongside it. Like the downtown Climbmax location, this property had limitations – like being in the floodway. While it wasn’t an easy place to build, it was important to be here.
I wanted to have a place that allows people to come do something adventuresome for the whole day – whether they rent bikes, rent tubes, have a smoothie, go climbing, or drink a beer. You don’t have to go to Bryson City or the Pigeon River to have an adventure; it’s right here in one place—in Asheville.
The location along the river sounds like a benefit to the types of activities people can do, but a challenge in terms of development, yet you chose to make that investment. Tell us more about that.
A significant part of the overall building cost was the flood-proof foundation. The cost of the foundation alone demonstrates my commitment to this location. We only used local businesses for building out the Center – from the civil engineering firm to the architect and building contractors. It was intentional to go local with the construction, just like it was intentional to be at this location—where people can gather for a smoothie or a beer on the deck after a game of volleyball or a walk on the greenway.
We hope that our investment as an anchor business along the river corridor encourages other unique local business to add their flavor along it, too. For homegrown businesses like ours, who share a vision of connections along the river, we want residents to know that we’re here 24-7 and that we’re not just operating for tourists.
What has business been like for you since you opened?
Weekdays during the summer are busy with climbers, boaters, bikers, and tubers coming in through French Broad Outfitters. We get some walk-in traffic from greenway users looking for water, too. We’re busiest in the evenings when we have destination climbers. Right now, we’re in an expansion phase to fulfill the plan we had for the Center all along that expands the climbing potential.
Why do greenways matter to the community, generally, and to your business, specifically?
On a personal and community level, it’s our one chance to have non-motorized connectivity to get from one place to another without having to get in a car. You meet people, see people, and smile; you never do that in your car. There are many people who can’t afford or don’t have a car, and we need viable connectivity for them. I believe in alterative means of transportation other than a paved highway.
From a business perspective, it’s a fulfillment of my vision for healthy, alternative lifestyle. Choosing to paddle or tube down the river is different than being in a motorboat. Choosing to bike on greenway rather than ride a motorcycle. Choosing to climb instead of watching TV. These are all means to a healthy lifestyle through engaged activities.
Thank you to the Smoky Mountain Adventure Center for sharing their great perspective on the economic benefit of greenways. Stay tuned to Connect Buncombe’s blog for additional Asheville business profiles in the coming months.