NY Daily News and USA Today: Downtown Knoxville Rocks

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

It’s gotten to the point that it’s hard to keep up with the national and regional accolades our city receives these days. It’s pretty easy to focus on the things that we think could be better – and there are plenty of those to be sure. We’ll surely get back to some of those in the coming days. But two articles that came to my attention in the last twenty-four hours are certainly worth a mention. Sure, the lists may be debatable, but the overall trend of how Knoxville is seen nationally has shifted decidedly in a good direction.

The New York Daily News published “Knoxville Exudes Southern Graciousness and Makes a Perfect Weekend Getaway,” by Michael Kaminer this past Sunday. I think I’ve seen Internet articles with fewer words than the title of the story, but it is a very kind title, if long. That Knoxville would be on the mind of a writer for a New York newspaper is interesting to consider.

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

So what are the reasons Knoxville makes such a good getaway? It starts with the easy joke: “Knoxville has a lot of balls.” Meaning, of course that atop the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Sunsphere. The writer notes that just a short time ago in our history, not much was happening downtown. Suggesting that has all changed, he quotes a local as referring to our city as “Mayberry with sushi.”

The author loved the Oliver Hotel and talked about the great shopping on Union Avenue, though he seems not to have walked the length of the street, but does mention Coffee and Chocolate, Rala and Nothing Too Fancy. The French Market, Tennessee Theatre and Mast General Store get mentions, as well as the Visitor’s Center, Knox Mason and the Peter Kern Library.

Pete’s Coffee shop is recommended for breakfast and the Knoxville Museum of Art is singled out for accolades. He’s particularly impressed, or so it seems, with the Richard Jolley installation, which is pretty fabulous, let’s be honest. Then the author shifts to Happy Holler, singling out Raven Records and Rarities, Retrospect and Magpies. Referring to Retrospect, but also the city in general, the author noted, “Like everything I saw that weekend, the store had a knowing sensibility leavened by Tennessee warmth,” and concludes by referring to us as, “this confident, kind-hearted little burg.”

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

The other piece may have been around for a while, but I just noticed the link on FB yesterday. It’s USA Today’s Travel Guide to Knoxville. It’s most interesting for the extent to which it is downtown-centric. For best shopping in the city, for example, the top ten includes Union Avenue Books, Mast General Store, Bliss, Earth to Old City, Nothing Too Fancy and the Market Square Farmers’ Market. Six of the ten. Interestingly, none are in deep-west Knoxville. No Turkey Creek.

The ten best nightlife spots are similar in distribution, with Sapphire, Barley’s, Scruffy City Hall, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, Suttree’s, Downtown Grill and Brewery, Tennessee Theatre and Preservation Pub included on the list. That’s eight of ten. Cotton Eyed Joe was the only west Knoxville spot mentioned.

For best attractions and activities, the list included regional sites, but all the sites in Knox County were in or near downtown, with Market Square holding down the top spot. The hotels were split and contained some odd inclusions like Leconte Lodge, but the top two spots went to the Crowne Plaza and, at number one, The Oliver. The World’s Fair Park was deemed the number one “historic site,” which seems a little odd. Blount Mansion and James White Fort also made that list. Lunch spots were topped by downtown restaurants Calhoun’s on the River and Chesapeake’s while Barley’s and Tomato Head also made the top nine.

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

Downtown Knoxville, Spring 2014

A couple of things are striking about these articles – and there certainly have been many more. First, that we are generating so much buzz says either we are really doing something right, we have a good publicity machine in place or both. Second, the fact that when Knoxville is talked about in the national press, it is largely our downtown upon which the conversation is centered. This would have been unimaginable twenty years ago or maybe even ten years ago.

When we talk about expending money to improve the center city, these articles demonstrate that we aren’t just talking about benefits for the small percentage of our citizens who live there. Improvements to the center city benefit everyone who comes downtown for festivals, shopping, entertainment and dining, football games and more. It truly is our gathering place. Improvements to downtown are also what will bring visitors to our city. As much as many of our citizens may prefer living in the suburbs and shopping at Turkey Creek, no one is traveling from other cities or regions of the country to visit those parts of our city. It is the center city that remains the attraction.

Comments

  1. I remember Downtown Knoxville in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s. There was NO reason to be down there after business hours. It was actually sort of scary. Around that time, I remember reading an article in Vogue magazine about a new trend called “new urbanization” about how people were starting to leave the suburbs and return to the city. I remember thinking, “I hope this happens to Knoxville”, and it has! I am very proud of our city for making this transition and for the vibrancy it brings to our town.
    (also I love the “Mayberry with sushi” description 🙂

  2. Kristi Gordon says

    While we’re on this topic, I haven’t seen anyone mention the fact that Knoxville was given high praise from the editor of National Geographic Traveler in his letter from the Editor in this months issue. Have you seen that? Apparently he used to live here, couldn’t wait to leave, and now would love to come back.

  3. Patti Rodriguez says

    I was born and raised in Knoxville. I moved away in 2009 and I miss it very much. I was very fond of the Market Square area. I thought living downtown in one of the refurbished building would be great. I loved the community they have created in the downtown area. I will move back eventually and I can wait to see the changes since I left.

  4. Cheryl Winter says

    I love Knoxville. I was born and raised in Florida and just recently moved here after 64 years. I came here to start living, not retiring!

  5. malcolm blowers says

    RE :Knoxville Rocks
    When we first moved to Knoxville in 1972, downtown still languished in the shadows of national bestselling author John Gunther’s assertion that Knoxville was the uglest city in the USA (Inside U..S..A..,1947) At various times we lived on the River, in Sequoyah Hills and in Farragut. Downtown had little more to offer than unrealized potential in those days. It has been years since we moved from Knoxville, but we often return and for us now the appeal is all about downtown. A city’s “calling card”, the locus of its distinguishing character, is indeed its downtown. As you note, “How Knoxville is seen nationally has shifted decidedly in a good direction”

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