Llamas in the City

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

No, this is not the title to a children’s book. It’s not a joke or some clever double entendre. Weekend before last there were actual, honest-to-god llamas running around on the World’s Fair Park. And not just two or three of the buggers. There must have been at least thirty or more.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

The occasion was The Great Llama Race which was really more than just a race. Booths and tents were set up all over the fair site and the action got underway with a Llama parade which was followed by heats of four Llamas at a time and then a final heat for the top four. I’ll be honest: Llams are better runners than I expected. I thought they might be like mules with longer hair and bigger humps, but not really. They don’t seem to mind moving.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Sponsored by the Southeast Llama Rescue located in Luray, Virginia, all the Llamas were rescues. Who knew there were Llamas needed to be saved? Not me. I can’t even imagine what they are saved from. Do people eat Llamas? I would guess not. The folks at the Llama rescue place also rescue Alpacas. I really would not have imagined a need for that in these parts, but I guess there is.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

The event was sponsored by Casa de Sara which is an organization located in Knoxville which raises money to help provide nutrition, health care and education to children across Latin America. They do extensive work in Bolivia where – wait for it . . . the Llama is the national animal! Don’t ever say again that you don’t learn things by reading this blog!

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

So, the event offered local schools a chance to pair up with a Llama, decorate it and race it against the other schools. The winning schools got a percentage of the funds raised to use for projects of their choosing. And, of course, everyone got to have fun in the mean time.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

On that particular Saturday, there were at least three major events happening downtown. This race on the World’s Fair Park, the Chalk Walk on Market Square and Rhythm and Blooms in the Old City. That’s a lot for a pretty compact little downtown. It occurred to me that day that the three groups of people involved in each were probably, for the most part, completely unaware the other groups were doing their thing.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Also likely, is the possibility that most of the people in Knox County, outside of downtown, didn’t realize that any of the three were happening. There is so much happening in the center city that a person would have to clone themselves several times over to catch it all.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, April 2014

 

It’s getting harder to be a downtown-vibrance-denier. I know they still lurk about, insisting that nothing good happens downtown and I’m not sure how we convince them otherwise.  Maybe we could start by showing them photographs of Llamas.

Last Chance: Jackson Avenue Redevelopment – What Should Happen?

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

So many of you guys (my great readers) have intense passion about our topic, that I often get lengthy comments or sometimes emails. I really appreciate them. Often they are well thought out and a bit different from anything I might have produced. It happened last night when Just John sent me an email. I call him “Just John” to give him a little bit of privacy and to distinguish him from the other Johns who read this site. For some reason, this site has more Johns than the upstairs of Patrick Sullivan’s in its glory days.

Just John reminded me that today is the last day for public comment on the Jackson Avenue site. The city is soliciting suggestions of the kind of development we’d like to see there then, presumably, they will take bids for the site and look for the closest proposal to the desired type of redevelopment. You can read some background that led to this point here. The bottom line is that you all need to put your creative hats on and go to the website and espouse your vision.

I don’t have a grand vision, but I do believe the site needs to be connected to Vine Avenue via some sort of ramp or elevator connected to the (yet to be built) building on the parking lot on the south side of Jackson. The building placed atop the old McClung site should have parking beneath street level (easy since it slopes off) and the building should be attractive, if not spectacular when viewed from the Interstate. An architectural statement would be preferable. Retail should line Jackson at street level and there should be access to the area behind the new building – which is where the new greenway should be re-routed (not on Jackson as it is now).

McClung Site, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, April 2014

McClung Site, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, April 2014

That’s a small vision compared to that of Just John. Read his below, formulate your own and register your thoughts today! Here’s what he has to say:

For my part, I believe that in order to meet the goal of a ‘transformative’ plan the area needs to be, well, transformed.  No Grand Redevelopment of that part of downtown can occur without accounting for the blighted pit at its center–the Norfolk-Southern Railyard.   The rail yard occupies about 5 acres, between Broadway and Gay viaducts, and between the buildable land banks along Depot Avenue and Jackson Avenue. An adjacent railroad reduces property value 5-20 % (to say nothing of a whole rail yard!); and the noise and mess are prime contributors to that.  In addition, this large area creates a figurative and also quite literal barrier to expansion of downtown activity into the northern blocks there.
So I say, “PARK IT ! ” – but with a meaning completely different from most downtown uses of that phrase.
Deck-over the whole yard, with proper attention to clearances for railroad safety and function, and with proper compensation to Norfolk Southern.  Use existing technology to build an “intensive green roof” there–et voila’, instant 5-acre park, complete with trees, paths, space for active and passive  use, birds, flowers, and –best of all– no railroad.
Property near parkland is valued up to 25 % higher than land further away.  Norfolk Southern has the right to use its land and to keep its rails safe, but clearly they can be convinced to sell air rights–the City has several roads and viaducts crossing their railyard already.   From looking at costs online, the cost to deck-over the whole area, and build a green park there, would be around $25M–no small sum, to be sure, but not that much when we hear of the city’s incentives for other development (which, by the way, I heartily agree with).  With a 50 % increase in land (per sq. ft.) value from railyard-adjacent to park-adjacent, the tax increment there is substantial.  In addition, this would allow for below-grade parking and access roads to be placed underneath the street-scape levels of the Jackson Avenue and Depot Avenue, enhancing the walkability of those streets.
That would create prime candidates for grand ‘terminated vistas’–at the Gay Street viaduct’s east side, and at the west side of the Broadway viaduct (which is to be redesigned soon).  What better place could one find to build our much-needed and much-discussed grocery store and pharmacy, on one hand, or an outdoor theater / amphitheater space, on the other ?
Imagine living in a 10-story condo building, with views of a 5-acre park, and easy access via your building’s back door.  A short walk brings you peace and relaxation, and also brings you access to your every-day needs.  Meanwhile, the necessary but gritty rail commerce continues under your feet, unseen.
In addition, since the railway will stay safe and functional, a foundation is already thus set for transit access, whenever the city embarks on such a project.
So, there you go. He’s thinking big and it would be wonderful if just every once in a while we all did that. We need to have a big vision for that site and insist that we get something that comes close to that vision. We don’t need to settle. It might be better if the site remained undeveloped for a short while in order to allow the market to make a vision a real possibility if that’s what we need to do. If we settle for boring architecture visible in any suburb in America, we’ll be stuck with it for a generation or more. Please city leaders, do not let that happen. Think big. Think bold.

2014 Dogwood Arts Chalk Walk, Part Two

There's not much more to say about the Chalk Walk beyond what I said yesterday, but this seemed like a good chance to respond to some of yesterday's comments. I always appreciate comments. I know from the numbers I see that other people are out … [Continue reading]

2014 Dogwood Arts Chalk Walk, Part One

Chalk Walk, Knoxville, April 2014

This is the time of year for festivals, many of which are smaller portions of the Dogwood Arts Festival. It's hard to keep up with it all with only one article a day, so sometimes I have to backtrack a bit. The Dogwood Arts Chalk Walk takes place … [Continue reading]

The 2014 Rossini Festival Fills Gay Street and Beyond

Rossini Festival, Knoxville, 2014

I paced myself a little better this weekend, lying low on Friday night, facing the taxman on Sunday. In between, however, downtown Knoxville was a complete circus. With tens of thousands expected for the Rossini Festival presented by Knoxville Opera … [Continue reading]