If the first few days are any indication, the new year will be filled with change for downtown. Faster than a blogger can blog or, certainly, a newspaper can publish, significant developments emerge. I hope as many of the shifts are as exciting as others will be discouraging.
Whenever downtown is mentioned in an article on the Knoxville News Sentinel, the message boards light up with discussion of how the center city is a wasteland of some sort or another. Generally, the logic runs that taxpayer money is wasted by the truckload on a dead and dangerous place and even if you wanted to take a trip downtown you would end up riding in circles through the night looking for affordable parking. Eventually a few people wade in to defend the city.
Why are so many local residents (or at least readers of our local newspaper) so negative about our city? I’ll leave that topic for future blogs, but today I’ll include some of the developments which have brought these folks out in packs.
The primary negative news recently concerns the closure of area restaurants. First, in mid December, Regas announced it was closing. While many people have fond memories of the restaurant, it has struggled for business in recent years. Next, just at the turn of the New Year came news that Arby’s was closing downtown. Though at the other end of the culinary spectrum from Regas, it nonetheless was also a long-term downtown dining establishment.
S and W Grand, Gay Street, Knoxville, 2009
Then, on Saturday, the announcement was made that the S and W Grand, which opened to great fanfare about a year ago was shutting its doors at least temporarily. The final closure of the three seems the most damaging to downtown momentum. As expected, a large number of people commented on the Knoxville News Sentinel story and most of them were negative. There were themes that emerged related to the price of the items, portions and lighting. I regret this one the most of the three because of its high-profile opening and its symbolic connection to downtown’s re-emergence. I’ll also miss having Donald Brown downtown every Saturday night.
The closure of the Saint Oliver has been discussed on this blog and elsewhere. The great news there is that the people who purchased it plan to invest a large amount of money to restore and update it and they plan to do so in short order and reopen as a hotel this spring. I hope that all goes well. The information from this weekend is that a large sale will be held beginning this Thursday of all the items contained in the building. These were collected by Kristopher Kendrick and range from inexpensive to very expensive and from common to unusual, if not rare. I’d love to have something just for the historical connection, but my boss would probably prefer that I work during those hours.
Henley Street north of the bridge, Knoxville 2010
Also worth a mention is that the drive to have something done regarding Henley Street (see post below and poll above) received a great boost this week when Metropulse published Jack Neely’s article on the problems and possibilities given the current closure of the bridge. In his, typically eloquent, article he challenged the mayoral candidates to take a stand in their campaigns. Perhaps that is the next goal for supporters of this effort. My worry is that we are going to have nearly a year of place-holding and no action in that office followed by months of a new mayor becoming acclimated and by that time half or more of the closure period will be over.
Of course, there are openings coming as I mentioned earlier in Just Ripe (which appeared to take a bit of a construction leap this week!), Harry’s Deli and Blue Coast Burrito. A reader commented that the space being vacated by Nama’s move to Gay Street is already slated to open as a new restaurant. Additionally, with facade grants in place, work is underway to open dual-use buildings as businesses and condos at several locations on Gay Street and Market Square.
So, the news in this very new year is not all bad, it’s just constant and we are just over a week into the year. Hang on for the ride.