“Southern Crossing” Picking Up Steam: Jackson Avenue Proposal Update

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

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.”

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

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.

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

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.

Southern Crossing, July 2014

Southern Crossing, July 2014

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 daviddenton@earthlink.net.


  1. Hopefully there are plans for a stage area for performing arts as well.

  2. I completely agree, Mary! This looks very interesting!!

  3. Just John says

    This looks wonderful !

  4. Art Wagner says

    Great proposal. Integrating the railroad into the architectural aesthetic is a fantastic approach as long as it is not a Disney-esque, watered-down “theme” area.

    Had more to say, but can’t get past the password bug. This is my third try, Urban Guy.

  5. This is so exciting for Knoxville! It will not only be beautiful but I am sure it will feel wonderful too! I see lots of events in our future in this space!

  6. The city has apparently hired an urban planning non-profit based in Washington D.C to come down to Knoxville in October. The group is going to look at 4 downtown sites, including the McClung warehouse site and make recommendations for ways to develop those 4 sites for a more vibrant downtown. Their report probably won’t be out for a few months after the visit. The city will likely then issue an RFP after the report is completed and my guess is their decision will be based on what these guys from DC think is best for Knoxville.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      That would be the Urban Land Institute, I believe. (http://uli.org/) I am very excited to hear what they have to say. I’m hoping they make a major contribution to the development of a vision of what Knoxville can become.

  7. This proposal is no better than the last one. Aside from being destined to be covered with bird droppings and pigeon feathers the open steel structure makes little sense in this space. The scale and confinement of the proposed area(s) is out of proportion for the opportunity being presented at this location. It is not even a good rip-off of what is found at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

  8. This would be the most awesome thing that has happened in the history of Knoxville’s downtown. It would put knoxville on the map and just think of the view from I-40 and the draw it would create from motorists passing through! We are all trying to be positive and make Knoxville even greater so please keep negativity out of this.

  9. Southern Crossing is designed to celebrate the art of Knoxville and East Tennessee, connecting creativity with Knoxville’s historic, railroad culture right where it began. This is the perfect location for adding to the arts community. Tied to the arts district, the Old City, the business district, restaurants and the evolving development of the north end of downtown, it’ll make a strong and positive statement about the arts in Knoxville.
    Romancing the railroad gives Southern Crossing a unique perspective not seen in many cities. Railroad cars recycled for rent to artists and arts organizations set the standard for sustainability and a nod to the past, while keeping costs down. The inclusion of green space, walkability, community space for workshops, classes, etc. bring in people. Residential space, parking, retail and eateries make it all workable.
    There are plans for an elevator to accompany the stairs leading down from the corner of Jackson Ave. and Gay St. ADA guidelines and courtesy to those with special needs are top priorities. Visibility and accessibility of Southern Crossing will encourage visitors and the curious to make it a destination of choice as well as leading them to visit other downtown businesses and points of interest. Sounds like a win-win situation for all of us, Southern Crossing – where time, ideas and culture meet art and technology.

  10. Being an innovator with creative ideas often leaves you in the minority until the idea becomes reality and then it is easier to have everyone applaud the concept. The combination of art, history and unique architecture is wonderful. This would indeed be a reason for visitors to come to Knoxville. Thank goodness for your staying the course and my best for a successful project.

  11. I suppose you would rather we just leave it a dilapidated eyesore with piles of brick lying around? Please enlighten us with your much better idea i’m sure you are much more qualified!

  12. I am on board! Is there anywhere in this idea for a green area for growing vegies? I am 100% for this, I need a more visual space to teach and studio space. Would be very interested. If I can help, please let me know.
    Veronica Ludlow
    Curios Studio
    1515 N. Central

    • Thank you, Veronica. There is definitely greenspace in the plan. Google vertical gardens to see some of the latest ideas in gardening and landscaping. We plan on a park between the artists village and the parking garage along with vertical gardens. It’s all conceptual at this point, but if we’re going to dream – we need to dream big.

  13. This is exactly the kind of creative, out-of-the-box thinking that Knoxville needs. I love the idea of taking a huge negative (the railyard) and turning it into a unique attractive space that links the old city to the cut-off sections of downtown on the other side of the tracks. This can be a real jump start to uniting once again a greater downtown Knoxville, lost for 50 years now to the horrible decision to blast downtown apart with concrete arteries for automobiles.

  14. Any plans to add passenger/Amtrak traffic?

    That would be a huge boon.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I agree it would be great, but I don’t think anyone is seriously considering passenger train service at this time.

  15. Michael K. Carroll says

    This is exactly the kind of development that downtown craves and the timing could not be more perfect! Located at the nexus of downtown’s most important development frontiers, it transforms what may be considered an eyesore into a beautiful celebration of culture, history, art and technology. It has the promise of bringing together our largest corporate employers and the region’s most significant art institutions. It will be hugely popular with locals and an important significant tourist destination. It is a win – win situation if ever I’ve seen one.

    Many locals may not appreciate that the railroad has actually been the very umbilical cord of our community’s economic development since the 1800’s. And while some may appreciate the vital historic and economic importance of the railroad, as a community we certainly do not embrace or celebrate it.

    Unrelated to this project, I had been researching and writing about the roots and the history of the railroad in our community – gathering stories about the companies that built and ran the railroad and about the people who experienced it. I am particularly interested in stories related to passenger service in East Tennessee and Knoxville. Lorie Matthews was helping to connect me with people who could help me find and discover the rich railroad culture, the history, the people and the stories. When she introduced me to David and Bobbie’s concept, I knew that they were on exactly the right track (pun intended)!

  16. Tom Hardin says

    This is a wonderful use of urban space. I hope it gets serious consideration
    Any chance it could expand to the old world fair site and link up with the L&N station? Seems like a chance to build mass transit into the concept while building on railroad romance might be worth considering. Just a thought

    David Denton has spun a very creative idea into an urban architectural experience. I hope I can see the virtual project soon. THH

  17. Just another thought about this project, one of the objectives is to celebrate the railroad, this would be perfect opportunity and location to incorporate a iconic railroad museum, something that will bring millions of tourist on their way to the GSMNP off the road into our city. Have a cool 4-D experience similar to the one in the Coke museum in Atlanta but railroad themed. This would be unique in our area and a huge attraction as we all know how fascinating trains are. I was also thinking that maybe the three rivers rambler could work this into their route tourist could board here or depart. And also incorporate the L&N station into their route. This is opening so many possibilities sky’s the limit.

  18. Lorie Matthews says

    It is a great honor to help weave together the dreams of David Denton, Bobbie Crews and Michael Carroll. I am deeply interested in making Knoxville a better place to live, work and play. Bringing the dream of Southern Crossings into reality provides an opportunity to impact all three. The Southern Crossings project promotes Knoxville as a city that values history, celebrates culture and embraces innovation. I particularly love the significance of naming the project “Southern Crossings.” From it’s beginning on the southern border of the American frontier, to it’s current position as a crossing point for the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Lab and TVA, Knoxville is and has been a city of crossings. While celebrating the historical significance of the railroad and the lines that still cross here today, Southern Crossings weaves together art and technology and will be a catalyst for growing social and economic capital in our community.

  19. Bonny Pendleton says

    I’d love to access the 3D model online, but can’t find it through Google. Can you provide a link?

  20. Reminds me of so many airports and mall food courts. What is the point of duplicating the most dismal architecture of the last 40 years.

  21. ELLEN KENNEDY says

    I have to say that this is a VERY bad idea. It looks like mini-Atlanta (from these plans) with enclosed walkways & parking garages. Renewing an old city like Knoxville means keeping the general layout and not giving prime space to automobiles. Streetcars; subways; and yes trains are the key to vitality. On a visit in May, I was struck by how many pedestrians there were on Gay Street but also by the absence of anything much to do (or reason to be there). Gone were the department stores of my childhood like Millars; gone too were the many smaller shops (from jewelry to shoes).

    • Thanks for reading and responding. This is all in the conceptual phase, so some things may not be entirely as perceived. The walkways are open-air. The parking garage is planned to accommodate residential parking, commuters, and visitors to our city including Knoxvillians who live outside of downtown. They can park, get out and walk or take the trolley to everything downtown. Southern Crossing is building possibilities for lots of interesting things to do besides all of the choices we now have of restaurants, musical and theater performances, the KMA, and the growing number of retail establishments. This list doesn’t even include things like the Emporium Center for the Arts, the Art Market, UT Downtown Gallery, Farmers Market, many different festivals and parades, restaurants and pubs who host musicians, the East Tennessee History Museum, movie theater, the many and varied offerings on Market Square on stage and off and numerous UT events. Southern Crossing can turn the problematic pedestrian barrier of the railroad tracks to a positive space where there are educational options, entertaiment and community gathering spaces for everyone. It will bring more economic stability to Knoxville and help raise the bar on our expectations. We’re happy to hear what people want for our city. Thanks!

  22. May I recommend if this project comes to fruition that you partner with Southern Appalachia Railway Museum in Oak Ridge for help in selecting the trains for the project. The Old Smoky RR museum at the Knoxville depot is a small clique of people who have not welcomed new members for 20 years and is an embarrasment to area railfans. Just look at their rusting away cars that need to be removed as they are an eysesore.

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