And Now For Something Entirely Different: A New Proposal for Jackson Avenue

Proposal for Jackson Avenue Redelopment

Proposal for Jackson Avenue Redevelopment

I’m going to defer the second installment of the Fourth and Gill Home Tour in order to open up some weekend conversation about the Jackson Avenue redevelopment. I posted a dramatic proposal from a reader a couple of weeks ago which generated a good bit of conversation.

This is a dramatic proposal, as well, but this one comes from David Denton, who left the city many years ago to pursue a career in architecture and design. His current interest is in design utilizing virtual reality. He’s teamed up with local artist Bobbie Crews, who I’ve mentioned before, to develop a vision that would both help the city and help the arts community.

David Denton, who now lives in downtown Knoxville, graduated from Georgia Tech and spent most of his career in California. He’s worked on some of the most praised design projects in the last thirty years and his work has been featured on PBS and in the New York Times. A full bio is posted at the end of this article, but the point is this person is in our midst and has a proposal for the dramatic statement we want on that end of downtown. He has a history of taking a lofty vision and making it a reality. Let’s listen, Knoxville. And is there a developer out there interested in working with a renowned design architect?

Site Diagram for Southern Crossing

Site Diagram for Southern Crossing


Southern Crossing

A celebration of art, craft and railroading

A proposed development by David Denton and Bobbie Crews for Downtown Knoxville


Downtown architect and urban planner David Denton and well-known local artist Bobbie Crews have been developing a concept for the future of the McClung warehouse site on Jackson Avenue.  The main feature of the proposed development is a village of artists and craftspeople utilizing recycled railroad cars.  Their vision, which they hope will be considered by the City, would help establish this area as an arts district and bring tourists to Downtown.  They also hope to find a developer who can help them bring this project to fruition.

The fact that the City has control over this property provides an opportunity to build a project that might not be possible in privately owned land and would benefit the City as a whole and Downtown in particular. A conventional mixed-use project may provide the greatest return, but would not necessarily be of maximum benefit to the City as a whole. There are over ten million visitors every year to the Smoky Mountain National Park. The City has not actively pursued the creation of attractions to take advantage of this tourism. East Tennessee has a rich tradition of arts and crafts.  Surprisingly, there are few places in Knoxville to learn and appreciate these crafts.

This area of Downtown seems to be evolving into an arts district. This is a positive development and should be encouraged. Some of the artists whose presence has helped to establish this as an arts district are fearful that what will happen to them is a common story in other cities: that is, the arts district that their presence has established becomes popular with others who can pay more in rent, such as galleries, architects, advertising agencies, etc. The result is frequently that the artists have to move on to other less expensive areas. Here is an opportunity to celebrate the artists themselves by creating a community of artists and craftspeople accessible to the public, who can watch them at work and buy their creations directly.

The site is immediately adjacent to a railroad yard. For a mixed-use development that includes housing, such an adjacency might be considered a negative. But if the theme of railroading were romanced, the perception could be quite different and prove to be an asset in marketing new residential and commercial space. Thus the suggestion here is to recycle outdated railroad cars, place them on the eastern half of the site adjacent to Gay Street, and make them available for rent to artists and craftspeople.

The project would have three primary themes: the first, railroad culture and history; the second, the celebration of local arts and crafts; and the third, the example of sustainability through the recycling of railroad cars covered with a  skylighted railroad station-like glass roof that in fact would be solar paneled. The remainder of the site to the west would be developed in a more conventional manner that would include tenant and public parking on the lower levels, with multi-level housing above. This site is an important location because of its connection to Gay Street, the arts district, the Old City, and the future development of Gay Street to the north. It desperately needs an attraction worthy of its location that will bring more people to Downtown Knoxville and benefit all of Downtown.

The eastern side of the site closest to Gay Street would be developed with the recycled railroad cars. This solution, not only quite responsible from a sustainability point of view, would also allow for a very economical solution. They are about the right size for many artists and craftspeople, with a platform built between them for public access. The other advantage of this solution is that it could be built much faster than new construction.

Southern Crossing

Southern Crossing

The access to the project would be where the stairs are now located, from Gay Street to Jackson Avenue, in the northeast corner. This would be improved, include an elevator and would extend upward with dramatic signage above, which would be visible down Gay Street. The Depot Building could be developed with larger studios and arts-related shops and with a museum of local and arts and crafts.

The Gay Street Overpass could be embellished with banners, celebrating local artists, and the addition of a vine covered trellis. These improvements to the overpass would encourage pedestrians to continue to the new developments to the north, such as the Southern Station. The mixed-use project on the western end would be designed to be sympathetic to the industrial/warehouse aesthetic. The public amenities would be primarily the arts and crafts village, which would include not only working studio space, but exhibition and event spaces open to the public. A common area would be located between the arts and crafts village and the new mixed-use development. The common space could include landscaping, a reflecting pool/fountain, a relaxing refuge for the area tenants, and a transition from the activity area of the village to the quieter residential area.



David Denton AIA Architect


David Denton, a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, is an architect and urban planner with over 30 years of experience in the field. He started his career as a volunteer teaching architecture in the Peace Corps in Tunisia and was an exchange student in the IAESTE program working as an urban planner in Harlow New Town, UK.

He was the design partner for the San Francisco firm of Whistler Patri responsible for numerous large scale commercial projects including the well-known San Francisco Center. Before starting his own design firm in Los Angeles, he was the managing partner of the internationally renowned firm, Frank Gehry and Associates. He was directly involved in managing many of the well-known buildings produced by that office such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall which was recently featured on a PBS documentary  as one of the ten most influential buildings in the history of the United States.

His own design practice for the last four years has incorporated the use of the virtual world in architectural design and urban planning projects. He was one of the first architects to use the virtual world as a design tool for a real life project, a shopping center in Cairo Egypt. He cofounded the Project K2 C with his Egyptian colleague, Dr. Amr Attia inspired by Pres. Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo in which he outlined his vision of Internet collaboration between students in Kansas and Cairo.  The project brings together in collaboration American and Egyptian architecture students on architecture and planning projects of mutual interest. This project has been funded by the US State Department. The students collaborate in the virtual world through their personalized avatars.

He also has designed several projects in the virtual world for universities that will be utilized as teaching tools for children. Clients in the Virtual World include The McKinsey Company, Stanford University Library, University of Southern California, University of New Mexico and Santa Barbara City College.

His innovative work in the virtual world has been featured in several publications including the Architectural Record and the New York Times. His work has also been selected to be archived in the permanent collections of Stanford University and the Library of Congress as innovative work in the early development of the virtual world.

He was born in Knoxville and grew up in Sequoyah Hills and spent most of his career in California. He recently moved back to Knoxville with his wife Judith and is living downtown in the Burwell Building.

The attached rendering is very conceptual at this point and is as would be seen looking down into the development from the Gay Street Overpass.


  1. I envision a small health food store that also sells on-site organic Yerba tea/coffee, etc, a small playground for children, an exercise trail for the new residents as well as for visitors, possibly an elderly writer/poet like me. And it needs to be pet friendly. I am all for it. It seems the perfect opportunity for a true art community.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      My favorite part of your additions is the “elderly poet.” There’s your cherry on top.

  2. The only thing I would change in the concept drawing is to have a “green” roof type garden/playground–instead of the rounded rooftop–that could add valuable green space for resident artists and visitors.

  3. Helen Cargile says

    I applaud Mr. Denton’s vision! Knoxville has been slow to embrace and showcase the vast amount of handcraft and art talent in our area. With the recent music revival in our fair city it only makes sense to now move toward visual and utilitarian arts. Please keep us updated on this very exciting concept.

  4. AMAZING! Who doesn’t love trains? I bet David and Bobbie could also come up with an incredible idea for the Baptist Hospital site… (BOARDWALK).

  5. Mary Linda Schwarzbart says

    I also support this area’s development as an arts center. I would add theatre and rehearsal space(s), possibly also including a new (and handicapped accessible) Clarence Brown Theatre.

  6. Juanita says

    What an incredible proposal! We are losing so many of our younger people to Chattanooga because of our lack of vision. Knoxville has the ability to be so much better because we are less spread out and more walker friendly with fewer huge roads and traffic to avoid between locations. If we keep building and redeveloping for people and not for cars, we will have the winning city that is desired.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      This blog needs a “like” button or better for this comment, a “love” button.

  7. Dorothy Stair says

    I love this idea. Birmingham has developed a stunning park along its old abandoned railroad beds downtown that now serves as a gathering places for students from nearby UAB.

  8. I love this! (see, I really don’t hate everything)

  9. Jeff johnson says

    Great concept. I would like to see a “Fresh Market” type grocery added to the plan, but if not a fit there, then maybe the Central corridor.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I agree. I’d love to see a Trader Joe’s somewhere downtown. I’m not sure that’s the spot, but somewhere.

  10. I enjoy seeing “vision” in Knoxville. It’s too few and far between. With over 10 years in real estate development and a vested interest in the vibrancy of downtown, I’d be happy to team up on a project such as this. Best of luck!

  11. Derek Trimble says

    Hey! Artist here – I’m immediately scared of a developer trying to build a bunch of stuff in the name of Studio Space. How much is he planning to rent the space out for? Most legit artists can’t afford $1400 in rent for shop space on top of our mortgages and living expenses. I’m not trying to nay-say because affordable studio space is REALLY hard to find in Knoxville. I’ve been trying to find a rough space to work in for over a year and haven’t managed to find anything that’s in a reasonable distance to my home and downtown.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I think all artist/liberal arts types fear people with their eye primarily on the dollar. I count myself among one of those. On the other hand, David isn’t the developer, he’s looking for one. His idea with rail cars was partially inspired by the fact that they are less expensive and the cost for the space could be kept down. He specifically mentioned artists being forced out of areas that become the latest hot spot, so I think he’s thinking like you are.

  12. I have been an artist in Knoxville for a long time. The idea demands attention, I will back this as much as possible. As an artist and teacher for many years, may I suggest a common area for workshops and learning center. Please keep me posted.
    Veronica L. H. Ludlow

  13. This is an interesting idea. I would like to hear more.

  14. Gordon Gibson says

    I am impressed with this concept. It offers creative and appropriate use of a space that is challenging in some ways (next to the rail line, less than a great view to the north) and very promising in others (not needing to adapt an old building to new uses). It answers the challenge of a few weeks ago in MetroPulse: for our architects to move beyond very good work in restoring and repurposing older structures and create some visually and conceptually excellent new structures downtown. Let’s not fill this space with a clone of the City-County Building. Let’s do something this brainy and audacious.

  15. Derek Trimble says

    Let us hope so, my friend. It would be a huge investment in the local art scene.

  16. Kristina Gordon says

    Yes, please. I love Asheville’s River Arts District and would love to see something like that here.

  17. Wow cool, my favorite thing is the dome roof thing. I like modern so, and hopefully we could get a few new boutiques thrown in there to, we need more shopping in this city. And as for the living give us a couple new modern high rise condo towers and it’s perfect. An outdoor amphitheater would be cool. With all this positive feedback seems destine to happen!

  18. Thank you for all of your encouraging comments and suggestions! Knoxville has so much to offer and we want to make the best of that. When all of us work together and care about our city, it adds up to a place where people want to live and do business. Please continue to support us in any way you can, and we’ll do our best to make good things happen.

  19. If you’re seriously interested in this project, you may contact
    David at: or
    Bobbie at:

  20. Yes, Helen there was a typo. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. the correct email address is Thanks!!

  21. henry a. hankal says

    the area as it stands (or has ceased to stand) is a blight and a barrier, not to mention a shame. that the train depot is is in private hands always seemed wrong, but not quite as wrong as the leveraged disappearance of passenger rail in knoxville. art space/residence…ok. but for bold and audacius bring back passenger rail to knoxville as part of the destination experience.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Light rail would be nice – but I’ve been told it’s impractical. Funny Chattanooga is studying it. I guess it gets more practical the further away from Knoxville you get? Hmm.

  22. I love the idea of bringing back passenger rail to Knox! It will never happen but love it. I love this idea, the shops and also yes a market of sorts. I travel to the farmer’s market on wednesdays and saturdays but having one full time would be amazing. If there would be space and it flowed with the other shops I would love to open my own (very) small deli/sandwich shop there.

  23. Too bad we have absolutely no leadership in this community that would help this happen. Chatanooga is sooooo far ahead if us in development. My daughter grew up in Knoxville and just started school AT UTC. She is In love with chats downtown and vibrant nightlife. chatanoogas music scene outs knoxvilles to shame. Horrible local leadership here.

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