That was the question on the table(s) last night as about seventy-five people gathered at the city’s invitation to discuss the topic. Rick Emmett and Bill Lyons provided an introduction to the night’s activity-based program and gave instructions to those seated the various tables. The task, we were told, was to “inform the process” of requests for proposals for the former McClung Warehouses site, as well as a parcel across the street and the parking lot between the ruins and the Gay Street viaduct. We were told there would be a draft request put together, another meeting for more feedback and then the request would be issued.
In plain English, they wanted us to talk about what we’d like to see on that very important site. Why is it important? Because it is highly visible from the Interstate and because it is the connecting point between downtown, the World’s Fair Park and Old North. That means a lot is riding on getting this right.
The vision shared by each table varied from one another, as you might expect, but there were significant commonalities. Just about every table wanted some manner of connection from Walnut Street (beside Immaculate Conception Catholic Church) to Jackson Avenue. Some wanted a ramp, some steps, some a sky bridge and others suggested a building on that site might offer a walk-on roof from that direction from which a person might take an elevator down to Jackson. A similar connection from Jackson down to the train yard was also recommended.
A number of the groups pointed out that the greenway – currently proposed to go up Jackson, could easily be routed behind the buildings on the McClung site, making for a more level route for cyclists and walkers. Some mentioned the possibility of building over the train tracks. There seemed to be general agreement that parking would be needed but, I felt, there was a consensus that it should be on the lowest level of the buildings which, for most of the site, is below the grade of the road. No one wants to see a classic parking garage, AKA a big cement box for automobiles.
Public space seem to be desired by most people. One idea in that regard, was to have a space between the buildings and Jackson Street making a corridor or courtyard between it and the viaduct which would make it a continuation of the space between the current warehouse which runs adjacent to Jackson and the viaduct. That space is set to be redeveloped for a brewery and other businesses. This could extend that. One table suggested that might be a good site for a crafts village.
So, what kind of building did the participants envision? That varied quite a bit from those wanting to echo the now demolished warehouses to others wanting a striking, modern architectural skyline statement. Several talked about the possibility of bringing a corporate headquarters to the site. Scripps was mentioned. Some suggested a tall building on the western end of the property with smaller structures on the eastern end to more closely match the scale of the 100 block of Gay Street.
Environmental concerns were expressed regarding run-off into second creek. Requiring the buildings to be LEED certified was mentioned. Making the garages below the buildings central points for carpool parking or the entire area a node for responsible transportation into the city was mentioned.
All seemed to agree that some sort of Iconic architecture would need to be required.
So, is all that practical or just a bunch of interesting, flighty ideas that you can’t realistically expect a developer to endorse? It will be interesting to see what threads of the night’s discussion are picked up by the city and which are not. And is there interest? It’s unclear, to me, that local developers can accomplish what was outlined at the meeting on the scale needed. Maybe they could each develop a parcel.
What we will likely need will be outside investment. If we get it, we need to guard against dropping our high goals for the property just to get somebody on site. To me, this seems the time to flex a bit of our rising-star muscle and not settle. We need to think big and throw the ball all the way down the field, to jumble my metaphors. We need to believe that Knoxville deserves and can realistically have an amazing building on this spot. And then we need to make it happen.
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I’ll close today by imploring you to get out and about downtown this weekend. Rhythm and Blooms will fill the Old City with music all weekend, the beautiful chalk walk will fill Market Square all day Saturday, Llamas will race on the World’s Fair Park, Art on the Block headlines First Friday. If you can’t find something fun out of all that, I think your funmaker is broken. Get out and make some fun. I’ll be the guy behind the camera.