Last May I wrote about a proposed project that brings together art, craft and railroading that is being created by architect David Denton and artist Bobbie Crews. The response to that posting was overwhelming. Since that time the team has been hard at work refining the concept and talking with numerous downtown leaders and organizations soliciting input and support. They report that the reception has been astounding and they are very optimistic.
Today I’ve have new images of the current status of the concept which will no doubt continue to evolve as more suggestions are incorporated. Denton says, “although this will be a competition for the right to develop this site (RFP to be issued by the City in a few months) we have opted to be very open in our design process sharing our ideas and involving as many people from the community as possible. The best proposal will be selected and we hope that will be our concept.”
Raised in Knoxville, Denton practiced architecture and urban planning in San Francisco and Los Angeles and was managing principal on the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the Frank Gehry firm in L.A. His local team recently expanded to include businessman, Michael Carroll and downtown organizer, Lorie Mathews.
The project is in the Arts District downtown. The NW corner of the intersection of Jackson Ave & Gay St., currently a parking lot owned by the City is next to the railroad tracks. The project – “Southern Crossing” is a Celebration of Art, Craft and Railroading.
Feeling that Knoxville’s visual arts representation could be strengthened Denton’s “Southern Crossing” would be the catalyst for further development in the Arts District and extend pedestrian interest along South Gay to North Gay at the evolving Regas Square and into Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville.
Making the railroad yards a downtown asset rather than a negative is key. Crews stated, “Embrace the positive and romance the railroad.” Railroad art, design, interactive installations and artist studio/galleries could form a village housed in railroad cars. The East Tennessee arts and crafts heritage would be visible and available in downtown Knoxville.
A larger studio building alongside the rail car “village” would provide flexible space for multiple tenants. Possibilities include art and technological workspace, art related retail and galleries, artist co-ops, working studios and gathering space, eateries, and an interactive railroad experience. Denton envisions using the new technologies of virtual and augmented reality as a way to tell how the railroads helped create modern Knoxville – the future as a window on the past. The potential for “Artist in Residence” space is a big plus.
Traditional, big-city train stations have a beautiful glass roof, and this proposal includes a contemporary version of the glass canopy which would become one of the icons of Knoxville. Beautiful in the daytime as well as a glowing beacon at night, it could be the jewel of the city – an inviting space for the arts and an open-air gathering space for the community. Ideas and concepts are evolving along with the possibilities for tenants.
A large parking garage would be topped by residential towers to the west of the village and over the site of the historic McClung warehouses. Open green space and a pedestrian friendly buffer would sit between the artist village and the residential towers/parking garage.
The architecture currently being considered incorporates contemporary ideas and technology with “Old City” charm. Brickwork in textural, craftsman’s patterns and the railroad setting, will inspire the design and ambiance. A good example of the high quality and flavor of “Southern Crossing” would be Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco.
The team is looking for community input and support as they present their dream to many community leaders, potential developers and funding resources. “Southern Crossing” could be a big boost to our economy, and be “the draw that puts Knoxville on the map.” While people who have watched the evolution of downtown Knoxville’s resurgence generally agree that the “big idea” quest of the past decade was misguided, it may be that we’ve reached the point that a “big idea” draw could readily be incorporated into the progress we’ve made to this point.
Denton has built a 3D model of the project in the virtual world online, in which on can walk or fly through the project and meet Denton at work. He is happy to give anyone a tour, to entertain input or to be contacted if you are interested being involved in some way. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.