One of the fun things about my job is that I get to hear all the good plans people have for our city. I get to hear what they are up to at the peak of their excitement – just before launching. Sometimes reality is a bit different from what was anticipated but, really, as sour and discouraged as we can all become sometimes, many things are working out very well in Knoxville in 2015.
It was only about two-and-a-half years ago that I wrote about Saw Works Brewing Company, for example. It was novel for Knoxville and the response to that post introduced me to the whole beer culture. I don’t drink beer, so I had no idea that people centered trips around tastings of specialty beers. Who could have known that a couple of years later there would be enough local breweries to warrant the advent of Knox Brew Tours? And it’s only started. This year may well be the year Knoxville becomes a destination for beercations. I know of five close to the downtown area that will be up and running within months. I’ve written about Pretentious Glass Company in the Old City, but I’ll bring news of the other four as soon as the owners are ready. That’s not to mention the Whiskey Distillery! There may be others I don’t know about.
But it’s not just about beer. Work is proceeding rapidly on several high profile buildings. The old KUB building, the JC Penney Bldg and the Kress Bldg all on Gay Street should have occupants by the end of the year. A bowling alley was announced quite a while ago for the basement of the Penney Bldg. Josh Flory announced other occupants offering specialty juices, coffee and tapas. I hope to have more on that, soon. Only one occupant of the Kress Bldg has been named – Bullman’s Kickboxing and Krav Maga. I hope to have more on that tomorrow. Other exciting businesses are rumored for Gay Street and plans are underway in three of the recently vacated spaces on Market Square.
It’s also the year that we begin some serious in-fill. Some of the projects may be more exciting or well-thought-out than others, but it’s empty land becoming structures, as opposed to structures becoming empty spaces, so it’s a corner we’ve turned. I’ve written about the Walnut Parking Garage, but there’s also the massive Baptist Hospital Project, Marble Alley and, for the first time, David Dewhirst and Mark Heinz will step into the ground-up construction business.
There are more condos coming, as well, both in existing structures, as well as new construction. This will be the year that those projects expand the footprint we consider “downtown.” A new entertainment venue has emerged at the Southern Railway Station and I hope to have more on that. Another cultural group is considering a move due to over-flow audiences for their productions. I’m not the most pop-culturally literate person, but that said, when acts I’ve never heard of are selling out local venues, we are an engaged, active and attractive market.
Festivals are shaping up to be spectacular, as ever. If you haven’t gotten your Rhythm N Blooms tickets, yet, don’t be silly. Grab them today and enjoy the Decemberists, Dirty Guv’nahs and Delta Spirit and around forty other acts in one glorious weekend in the Old City. The Big Ears tickets are also on sale and, once again, this festival is putting Knoxville on the musical map around the world with artists like the Kronos Quartet and Laurie Anderson. This week at Relix Theatre is the premier annual showcase for local music as Waynestock gets cranking Thursday night and runs through Saturday. At $5 a ticket, it’s just not smart to miss it, if you like good music. And those are just the upcoming music festivals.
So, the view from early 2015 is a very, very good one. It’s full of exciting news we can see coming and much that we can’t. It’s going to be a good year to say you were in this city. So, despite a few recent closings, hold your head up, Knoxville. You haven’t come close to hitting your stride. But it’s coming, friends, it’s coming.