A larger vision of the north side of downtown is emerging through each of Just John’s posts. Each part follows the other and works together. Here’s his next piece in re-imagining this part of downtown:
The block bounded by Jackson Avenue and Vine Avenue is quite long, and as a consequence of the sloping geography between the two streets, there is not any direct access from the ‘up-hill’ part of downtown down to Jackson Avenue. Rather, an intrepid walker must detour to the Gay Street or Broadway intersections – not a short walk. The transformation of Jackson Avenue thus virtually requires improved access to the neighborhood from the rest of downtown.
The strip between the KCDC surface lot on Vine Avenue and adjacent to Ryan’s Row provides an ideal mid-block site. It is currently a steep downhill slope from Vine to Jackson, and for that reason it has remained un-developed. Combine ample new parking at the eastern part of this sloping site (as I describe below) with vehicular access from Jackson Avenue and from Vine Avenue, and a landscaped pedestrian access route, and the change will enhance both parts of downtown.
That connection, from Vine downward and northward, should be designed to continue, via a pedestrian-accessible break in the ‘street wall,’ onto High Park. A complementary pedestrian connector should link Conrad Street to the park, from the north. What might a pedestrian alleyway look like ? It need not be boring, or dark, or unappealing. Here are some examples:
In addition, connectivity between Broadway and the ‘up-hill downtown’ should be improved, by continuing Vine Avenue westward and downhill south of the downtown Five-Points intersection to meet Broadway, even if only for pedestrians. This will complete a street circuit, and make the southern side of a Jackson Avenue a true block. The City owns the property adjacent to Broadway there, and the rest is part of a parking lot for the residential tower there, so the change will not have complex property-rights problems.
The bustling new development we’ve created so far will need ample parking, for residents, local visitors, and special events. A creative parking-lot land swap can accommodate this need, and additionally provide a concrete benefit to the ongoing redevelopment along South Gay Street.
The Knoxville Community Development Corporation owns a long surface lot on the north side of Vine Avenue, south of the small sloping ‘urban wilderness’ behind David Dewhirst’s projects on Jackson Avenue. It also owns the surface lot on the western side of the Gay Street 200 block, west of the former Treble-Clef park. That parking lot is currently reserved for residents of the Sterchi Lofts building, a condition of its redevelopment. The empty space of the parking lot detracts from the journey to and from the 100 and 300 blocks of Gay Street, and there is ample space there for a large floor-plate building; conversely, the KCDC lot on Vine Avenue is actually closer to the Sterchi lofts.
So, let’s create a parking garage at the Vine Avenue site. It will have multiple parking levels, from the down-hill Jackson Avenue street-access level, to the Vine Avenue street-access level, to higher levels. As Vine Avenue is not currently a prime pedestrian street, it need not have dedicated or required retail frontage. (Some urban development writers call this differentiation of streets an ‘A Street’ / ‘B Street’ system.) Vehicular transit from Jackson to Vine will be accomplished within this garage, by spiraling up or down (as in many airport parking towers), or via a dedicated driving lane. This garage can be created using a public-private partnership, similar to the garage planned near the TVA towers, to minimize risk to the city.
Pedestrian ramps would connect the garage up and down the hillside. Note that a helical access ramp need not be simply functional, and it need not be simply for automotive traffic. Here are some examples of prettier ramps–both helical and more rambling–that would help connect the up-hill Vine Avenue to the down-hill Jackson Avenue.
The city would transfer the deeded parking rights from the Gay Street lot to a part of the new tower. We have thus assisted in Jackson Avenue Sector parking and connectivity, and furthered another goal: the continued resurgence of Gay Street itself. By providing a new (and actually slightly closer) dedicated site for Sterchi Lofts residents, KCDC is enabled to seek proposals for redevelopment of the Gay Street 200 Block lot, certainly a prime piece of real-estate, while keeping its obligations to those residents.