It’s easy to fall into a pattern of bad news or complaints. We tend toward the negative much more readily than the positive, for some reason. Sometimes I do that on this blog, as positive as I’d like it to be, sometimes when I look around the city I forget to look for the stories that inspire me and slip into focusing only on the things that I’m less happy about. Not that critical examination doesn’t have its place, but I do prefer to live my life looking for the positive.
So, for today’s post, I chose four recent stories about downtown that I think are good news and decided to highlight them. Our city gets a lot of things right, so, let’s look at a few. Just for fun I’ll rank the four I chose.
At number four, an announcement was made yesterday that the Outdoor Adventure Center and Visit Knoxville will begin renting bikes to the public. The bikes were donated by Regions Bank, so they are painted the green color that is their current look. The cost ranges from $12 to $19 for a two hour ride and the proceeds go to legacy parks. They are starting with eight bikes, but I’d love to see them add more. The Oliver also has bikes for their guests and it would be nice if the other hotels followed. Let’s put those tourists on bikes!
The third best piece of news, in my opinion, was the action, six days ago, of Mayor Rogero to join the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. There are only two mayors in Tennessee who have joined, Mayor Rogero and Mayor Dean of Nashville (Mayor AC Wharton of Memphis, where are you?). There is a great interactive map showing the mayors nation-wide who have joined. Basically the are saying that people in a loving relationship should be able to marry their partner.
Of the move, Mayor Rogero stated, “. . . Knoxville is a city that embraces diversity, and respects and values all of its citizens . . . The right to public and legal recognition of a committed, loving relationship is fundamental to individual dignity and happiness . . .” Given the small numbers of mayor across the south (outside of Florida) who have joined, this is a bold stand on her part and one I’m happy she took.
The second best piece of news recently is also out of the mayor’s office. Just yesterday she “announced proposed changes in City of Knoxville building and zoning codes that would provide a delay of up to 60 days before a demolition permit is issued on historically significant buildings. A resolution on the issue will go to City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. If approved, the resolution will refer the proposed changes to the Metropolitan Planning Commission for review. They will then come back to City Council for final approval. The demolition delay would affect properties either on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places that are not already protected by historic overlay zoning.”
“Historic properties are crucial to our civic identity,” Mayor Rogero said, “and they also present great opportunities for economic redevelopment. We have heard from local and national preservation groups that a delay is often the best tool for working constructively with property owners to save these buildings.” Under the proposed changes, modeled after a similar ordinance in Nashville, any demolition permit application for a building more than 50 years old will be referred to MPC’s Historic Preservation Planner for review. If the property is found to be historically significant, the Preservation Planner will work with the property owner to ensure that they are aware of any opportunities for preservation or salvage of historic features.”
I contacted Kim Trent of Knox Heritage to get her reaction to the news and found her very pleased with the move, calling it “a wonderful measure to protect historic structures,” and adding that a collegue had once said it, “buys time for history.” She pointed out that often owners of older buildings simply do not know that there are options to demolition, do not understand the historic significance of the structure and are unaware of financial help available to preserve historic buildings. She said Knox Heritage, “always wants a solution that benefits the owner and preserves the property,” noting that a little extra time has saved local properties such as the Walker-Sherrill Home and the Lones-Dowell House.
The best piece of good news, in my opinion, reported by Josh Flory last week, is the news that the Farragut Hotel appears to have actually been sold to be redeveloped, at last. You may remember last February when, with great fanfare, the announcement was made that the Farragut building would be re-developed as a hotel, returning it to its original use and giving Knoxville a second, much larger, boutique hotel on the lines of the Read House in Chattanooga or the Andrew Jackson in Nashville. In the end, it didn’t happen.
At that time there were four major hotel projects being planned for downtown and Joe Sullivan wrote an excellent article in Metro Pulse debunking the whole idea. I hoped he was being pessimistic and of all the projects, I really wanted the Farragut to fly. It turns out, he was right: we aren’t ready for more hotel rooms. The recent sale of the Hilton for 25 million dollars seemed to me to be a symptom of a healthy hotel market. One of the investors backing the February deal for the Farragut apparently was spooked at how low that price came in and so, dropped out, effectively killing that deal. Apparently I don’t think in big enough dollars.
Once that fell trough – about three weeks ago – it seemed unlikely to me that someone else would step up any time soon. But that’s exactly what happened when Rick Dover of Family Pride Corporation based in Lenoir City. The group has already renovated Oakwood Elementary School as an assisted living facility and plans to renovate Knoxville High School as an independent senior living center. He indicated a number of uses for the Farragut will be considered and that the project appeals to him particularly because of his memories of going to dances there when he was in high school.
I’m happy to see it purchased (the sale is pending at this time – not finalized) by someone who says he loves it. I’ll still hold out hope for a hotel, but another use would be better than no use, which is what it has had for many years.