Current Construction on the North Side of Downtown

City House Town Homes, Vine Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

As promised last week when we took a tour of south side construction, today we’ll take a turn through the north end of downtown and look at some of the major construction there.

First up is the construction on top of the hill, a Hatcher-Hill a project I most recently wrote about here. City House Town Homes occupy a spot long intended for homes with the completion of Ryan’s Row, the adjacent town homes, by Kristopher Kendrick in 1987. A short thirty-three years later and the new homes extend the residential units along Vine Avenue.

The homes have roof-top decks, two-car garages, and other amenities hard to come by in an urban area. They also have commanding views of downtown and the Smoky Mountains to the south and Sharps Ridge to the north. In addition to the approximately 500 square feet of outdoor space allotted to each unit, owners will enjoy about 3,000 square feet of interior space, or about two-to-four times more than most homes in downtown Knoxville.

City House Town Homes, Vine Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

A number of readers were quick to criticize the design and location, pointing out that it is near the train yard and interstate. Regarding the design, readers said it felt cold and austere. Of course, that was based on the rendering. I have to confess to liking the (near) finished product much more than the rendering. The actual brick is darker than the color used on the rendering. Additionally, the wood finishes around the entrances give the final product a warmer feel than the rendering.

Jackson Avenue Ramps West Side, Knoxville, February 2020

Jackson Avenue Ramps East Side, Knoxville, February 2020

Just down the hill and a block to the north are the Jackson Avenue Ramps. Talked about for years, it seemed construction would never arrive. Once it did, the demolition moved very quickly. Crews are now working on the infrastructure that will go beneath the ramps. My observation on other projects is that this phase takes the longest and shows the least amount of obvious change.

After this phase, changes will be easily spotted, and the project will likely move much faster. The projected finish date is summer of 2021. The most recent information and much greater detail on the project may be found here.

Broadway Viaduct Demolition, Knoxville, February 2020

Broadway Viaduct Demolition, Knoxville, February 2020

To the west of this site, and visible from the Gay Street viaduct, is the much more massive and involved Broadway Viaduct replacement project. This project was discussed for well over a decade (or two?) and eventually became a joke. Until it wasn’t. Demolition began at about the same time as the Jackson Avenue Ramps, and the project also seems to be moving along rapidly, with most of the old viaduct gone.

That said, the project is much larger in scale and much more complex, given the rail tracks running through the site. The same company is working both projects and the projected completion date for this project is late summer of 2022. Details of this project may be found here.

Future Home of Stockyard Lofts, Willow Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Future Home of Stockyard Lofts, Willow Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Finally, Stockyard Lofts, located on Willow Avenue have gotten underway after considerable delay. First announced here (and described in detail) in July 2017, the 152 unit apartment building was originally set to have been completed last year. Instead, due to regulatory delays, the project didn’t get underway until late in 2019.

Original projections said the project could be completed within eighteen months of the beginning of construction, which would put the new completion date sometime in mid-2021. The stage that once sat in the space has been removed, the parking lot has been dug up and foundation work has begun. Recent rains formed a small lake in the depression dug for the foundation, which, ironically, is in a spot that used to be underwater for much of the year, according to Jack Neely’s recent book on Old City history.

A Downtown Amenity for Children Hiding in Plain Sight

Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

While it might look quiet on the outside, if you enter the Lawson McGhee Library, take a sharp left and walk down a flight of stairs, it’s likely on any given day that you’ll encounter a sudden burst of joyous energy. It’s a trek that children and parents from all around the county take on a regular basis and it leads to the largest children’s literature collection at any area public library.

Cheerfully steered by Erin Nguyen, Children’s Services Manager for Knox County Public Library, the room is just the tip of the iceberg for county-wide programming for children. As of 2018, there were over 400,000 children’s books available for check out across the county. In that year, over 20,000 children attended one or more of the over 500 programs offered.

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

The library is encouraging “Every Child Ready to Read,” a national program recognizing that so many children arrive at school significantly less prepared than their peers. In Knox County, only 40% of third-graders are reading on grade level. The program emphasizes supporting parents by helping them understand the literacy and pre-literacy skills their children need and helping them deliver those skills to their children.

Concurrently with this effort, the libraries have joined Mayor Jacobs in the Read Around the World initiative, with the goal of having children in Knox County read 500,000 hours during 2020, the rough equivalent of the time it would take to travel around the world 20 times. Handy passports are constructed and are broken into the continents. Reading about each of the continents is a bonus, and adults are encouraged to join in. The amount of reading breaks down to about 20 minutes a day for a total of about 10 hours a month for children across the county.

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Libraries across the county offer about 65 story-times per week. At Lawson McGhee, there are currently four different options based on age and they are offered from morning to evening. Wednesday morning is a particularly popular time for toddlers, and the Tuesday evening program at the downtown branch is the only evening program offered across the county. A number of parents pair the Wednesday morning story time with the Wednesday Market Square Farmer’s Market. Lawson McGhee also offers a craft activity, “Make It and Take It,” on Saturday mornings, which pairs well with the Saturday Market Square Farmer’s Market when it is in season. There’s one this Saturday with an African theme.

Planning is well underway for the Children’s Festival of Reading, coming up quickly on May 16. In addition to helping staff the reading room at Lawson McGhee, Nguyen is also charged with setting a schedule for outside presenters and musicians for the annual summer festival.

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

The hope is to get even more children connected to their public library and to reading as a part of their daily life. Mary Pom Claiborne, Director of Marketing, Development and Communications, said that a major initiative is to get a public library card into the hands of all children in Knox County, an effort they are coordinating with the schools. She said they are about halfway to that target.

In addition to the books, there are other resources available. During my visit there were children being read to by parents, and children having a tea party, playing with stuffed animals, and more. The library also has a growing collection of digital books, Playaway Launchpads, available for checkout that are similar to iPads with apps and books loaded. Books with built-in audio files and Tumblebooks, which are animated picture books, are also available through the library’s extensive database collection.

Mary Pom Claiborne and Erin Nguyen, Children’s Room, Lawson McGhee Library, 500 West Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2020

It all adds up to a great resource for children and a fun spot to take the children or grandchildren when visiting downtown.

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