The study panel from the Urban Land Institute made themselves completely clear in maintaining that the green space, though perceived by some to be underutilized, should be preserved, with none of it developed. Further, they want Second Creek to be unearthed behind the Museum of Art, removing the rail tracks, the dumpsters and the service road. Calling the site “iconic,” they stated that the growing population downtown would need that green space. That said, they would like to see development taking place around the edges of the park, such as along Eleventh Street and Henley.
Also recommended was an expansion of the parking garage adjacent to the Holiday Inn. A strong greenway connection from the Worlds’ Fair Park north end to the McClung site is needed, as well, but that’s where the remaining suggestions, perhaps intentionally, turned less clear. They would like to see cultural development to the north of the Knoxville Museum of Art along Western Avenue and Grand Street, such as the MUSE.
They also wish to see the bottom floor (the exhibition space) beneath the Holiday Inn developed, and as strongly as anything else, suggested it might be a proper placement for the Clarence Brown Theatre’s ticket office and administration and, I’m assuming here, classrooms. The actual Theatre would potentially be placed beside the Holiday Inn, though I thought I understood that they saw the spot north of the KMA as another option for the Clarence Brown.
It got a bit muddled to me at this point, but I think their clear over-arching goal was to preserve the green space while developing the edges with cultural attractions to enhance what the Knoxville Museum of Art has started on the site. Clearly they would like to see the Muse and the Clarence Brown Theatre included in the mix, with the new arts and entertainment space across the street on the Old Supreme Court site taking the performance functions of the current Auditorium and Coliseum.
Just up the (proposed) greenway connection to West Jackson, they called the McClung site “downtown’s northern gateway,” and called for “contextual development.” They suggested engaging a “master developer” to over see the entire site and perhaps structuring it for incremental development, saying design standards were critical. The grade change off the road’s northern edge should be used for a couple of levels of hidden parking and the street edge should be active use, with the goal of making a “two-sided street.”
Additionally, they discussed the importance of developing a connection via Walnut from Vine Avenue down to Jackson and then on down to the current rail yard, which hopefully would include the greenway carried east from the World’s Fair Park. The RFP should, clearly, include mixed uses. I’m unclear if residential was specifically mentioned, but it was at least implied.
They seemed to feel the final site was the most problematic. The fact that the Coliseum was built outside the downtown area, isolated from any other amenities such as restaurants and bars, is severely outdated and has been systematically surrounded by very large roads makes it, in their opinion an untenable situation. Their solution? “Cut your losses.”
Does that mean demolish the facilities? I’m not sure, but it sounded that way. The vision there is to restore the urban grid with mixed use, but with significant mixed-income residential development, a connection to the river, and an unearthed First Creek with a greenway beside it. They mentioned that the low-income housing on the hill above the coliseum would have to be replaced by mixed income housing. The entertainment functions of the Auditorium and Coliseum would be moved to the new entertainment complex on the Supreme Court site with some functions, presumably, moving elsewhere.
So, there you have it; everything I gleaned from the meeting last Friday. How much of it is possible? How much of it is likely? Will the city administration move aggressively to follow this blue print or will they select parts and delay or discard others. Some do sound like decades-long projects, while others sound more conceivable in the short-term. Several will be very controversial to pursue and others require interest and cooperation on the part of groups over which the city does not exercise control, such as the University of Tennessee, private developers, the Department of Transportation and funding agencies.
I’m anxious to hear a comprehensive response from the city though that, rightfully, won’t likely come until after the full written report is issued sometime around the first of next year. Remember, we are in a comment period and you may send your thoughts to the city at ULI@cityofknoxville.org.