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.
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.”
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.
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.