A Simple and Realistic Plan for Downtown Knoxville

Fixed Cover

As I noted in a recent article, the Urban Land Institute has released its final report. The full report may be viewed here. My article drew quite a few comments (32) and extensive interest. The conversation will be continued when the city hosts a forum on the topic March 30, 5:30 at the East TN History Center. The plan is bold – narrow Henley Street, remove the Civic Auditorium and Colliseum, line Henley and fill the Supreme Court site with mixed use development and so on.

David Denton (along with colleagues Just John and Bobbie Crews) , whose vision of downtown has been documented in this space before, has some very different views from the ULI and I invited him to share them here. It’s part of a conversation we need to have. The following is a condensed version of his proposal. Feel free to comment below, of course. Read the report. Comment to the city at  ULI@cityofknoxville.org. Attend the meeting on March 19. This is a critical moment for the future of downtown Knoxville.

The Corridor and focus of visitors’ activities and potential development sites for uses that provide more pedestrian foot traffic


Here’s Davd Denton, Bobbie Crews and Just John’s condensed vision for the city:

The purpose of this plan is to provide a vision for downtown Knoxville, and the framework for informing future urban design decisions.  The concept is to create a downtown core of pedestrian oriented activities and uses that serve both residents and visitors.  The visitors are mostly congregated along Gay St., Market Square and the Old City, an area we’re referring to as the Corridor.  Visitors are an essential part of the success of our downtown.  By expanding and improving the experience for the visitors it’ll also create a more desirable place for the residents of downtown.

One of our highest priorities should be given to supporting our existing downtown businesses, most of which depend on visitors.  One of the most important priorities for these businesses is an increase in foot traffic.  This could be achieved by locating future businesses in or near the corridor.  These  uses would be such that they’d bring more people to the Corridor and could include such uses as museums, libraries, theaters, retail, etc.  By concentrating these venues visitors could have the best possible experience downtown by being able to walk to all major points of interest.

The Jackson Ave. Site is particularly important as a destination place to attract more people to the downtown core.  The site is owned by the City and should be primarily developed in a way that would be accessible to as many people as possible with such uses as a new high-tech interactive learning center (a re-envisioned library), a children’s museum and a major arts-oriented use that would be a catalyst for expanding the arts district.  The development of this site for pedestrian oriented uses would be beneficial as a gateway to the Old City and the blossoming North of Knoxville. Other areas of downtown could be developed with mixed use projects, primarily residential.

The World’s Fair Park area is not appropriate for uses such as museums or theaters, since their patrons are not as likely to use the park itself and would not benefit the downtown businesses not being in walking distance.  A better solution would be to surround the park with high density housing, developing the greenspace mainly for residential outdoor activities.

Walkable Gay Street
An example of making the street more pedestrian friendly with free standing show cases that block the view of the surface parking and extend the retail frontage


Henley St. definitely needs to be reconfigured – particularly at the intersections to make it safer for pedestrian crossings.  One lane of traffic might be eliminated – but not for parallel parking  as that may be too dangerous due to the heavy traffic coming in from the interstate.  A better solution may be landscaping or a bicycle lane.

The east side of Henley St. might be a good location for large retail that would serve both downtown as well as the region, having good exposure to the regional traffic of Henley St.  The slope of the Supreme Court Site would lend itself well to this concept by having the large retail space located on the Henley St. level and the ground floor of the above mixed use project on the upper street level. This is not a good location for a performing arts center as it would not benefit any of the rest of Downtown

The ULI report suggested that the auditorium/coliseum site may not prove worth saving, which would open a significant development opportunity adjacent to downtown.  Creating a residential community could include some housing sites that would probably be successful downtown, including micro-apartments, senior living communities, and townhomes with small gardens.  The Marriott Hotel in order to remain competitive needs a uniqueness that might be addressed by adding a state of the art health facility and spa, and renaming it the “Knoxville Athletic Club” a Marriott Destination Resort Hotel.

We believe this plan would be the most beneficial to downtown businesses and support visitors and residents as well.  We suggest that the city prepare a plan for  Corridor from the Bijou to the Old City while considering the involvement of the local design community in taking this plan to the next stage.  If this concept is adopted, it becomes significantly easier to evaluate the individual development projects and their role in contributing to the overall vision of downtown Knoxville.  Attached is a plan for the corridor from the Bijou to the Old City, showing potential development sites for uses that would generate more pedestrian activity downtown.  There’s also a rendering of an example of the kind of improvements that would make downtown more walkable.