Temperatures outside hover in the nineties and the humidity seems to hang somewhere between swamp and sauna levels. Summer certainly doesn’t seem to be near finished. The calendar states very clearly that we remain short of the half-way point of that hottest season. Still, there are other, more cultural calendars that indicate summer is ending sooner than the calendar would allow. The Vols have started practicing for their season and UT students move into dorms next week. Knox County Schools welcome students on Monday and teachers are already at work. Sounds a lot like fall.
With the end of “cultural summer” closing in around us, I thought a bit about the themes of this summer in downtown Knoxville. I’m not sure these are cataclysmic events or markers, but they’ve certainly formed a theme for the summer and shaped the behavior of many downtown residents and visitors. At least that’s how it has appeared to me. Perhaps you’ve noticed other themes.
First, and very much foremost, is construction. We may have summers in the future more dominated by construction or maybe it’s a more-or-less permanent state for us, but construction has been unavoidable. Sidewalks are obstructed at every turn. Whether in the Old City, where the south side of Jackson Avenue has been under construction recently or all the way on the other end of downtown at the 700 block of Gay Street. How many months have many of us walked through the parking lot along that block to get to the Bijou?
The 700 block deserves its own paragraph. The complicated project was supposed to end in May, “about 2o0 days after beginning,” according to the article I wrote on the project a year ago. Clearly that mark was missed severely and, while I know it will be great when finished and I understand that unexpected developments can delay progress, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher to walk past day-after-day and see two, three or four workers on the site. And the businesses have suffered tremendously. Support them as you are able: Frussies, Dazzo’s, Rock, Paper Hair Studio and The Flower Pot. They are open and hurting.
Of course, that’s not the only construction underway on Gay Street. The Farragut Hotel construction has a walk-through construction shed lining the street which has caused a number of problems for the French Market. There is also a construction shed in front of the Kress Building, but whether that means anything will be accomplished is yet to be determined.
The worst of the construction sheds may be the one outside the coming juice bar on Union Avenue. I don’t understand why the crew was approved to completely obstruct the sidewalk. Further, “No Parking” posted on the side of the structure seems to only apply to those of us outside the construction crew. They park vehicles there all day, making a nightmare for pedestrians to navigate.
KUB and subcontractors also continue to uproot city streets to replace the aging underground infrastructure. You will find updates on this project here. I know at least two sections of streets – on Union and Locust – that have been “repaired” twice by sub-contractors. The first time water was not linked to at least the Locust Street garage. Through last winter and spring, particularly, exiting downtown in a car was often a conundrum and returning was similarly confounding as road closures had shifted in the interim.
The result of all the road work is that many downtown streets are now similar to the surface of the moon with any attempt to cart a cup of coffee in a moving vehicle likely to produce an unsatisfactory result. The good news is the roads will be re-paved when all the work is complete. The bad news is that means we’ll leave construction and enter a lengthy paving project. It could be worse: We could be talking about Cumberland.
The upside to all the construction is that it all means our city is moving forward with money streaming into our center city. Clearly, the current state of affairs is preferable to empty streets or a steady disinvestment from downtown as we’ve seen in previous decades. “May you live in interesting times,” indeed. We may have only seen the beginning.
It’s important to mention, that while construction continues to boom, we also continue to see buildings fall, whether necessarily or not. The latest was in Maplehurst just this week. Long condemned and empty, the building was considered blight and not salvageable, but it’s important to remember that without regular maintenance, that is what happens to buildings and we have others that need more maintenance than they are getting. So, maybe it was a lost cause, but that started with someone not taking care of it sometime in the past.
A second thing that struck me this summer is a cultural oddity of our times and it’s struck worldwide, I suppose. Still, it will be hard to remember this summer without mentioning Pokemon Go. Surpassing Twitter within a few short days in total users, it’s been a remarkable phenomenon. Large numbers of people roaming around singly or in clusters have been easy to spot ever since its inception. On the good side, if massive numbers of people are gaming, at least with this one they are outside and exploring places they may not have found otherwise. I’ve watched them meeting others in the real world and that’s a good thing.
There are down sides, in my opinion. There have been injuries because of staring at the screen and not watching where the participants are going. They also clog sidewalks at times, oblivious to the idea that others may just want to use the sidewalk to, well, actually walk from one place to another. And the cranky old man in me sees it as a bit silly to spend so much time and energy walking around like a zombie, capturing non-existent creatures. But that’s just me and I know all of you love it. I’ll pass, though it has spurred my thinking about possible uses of augmented reality in an urban environment. We may see some interesting applications soon.
Pokemon hasn’t entirely cornered the market on searches this summer. I think it’s important to mention that the “Find Waldo” effort supported by Union Avenue Books, CBID and Visit Knoxville has been a smashing success. The game, which ran the month of July, required the participants (some of whom were not young children) to travel the city from one end to the other finding Waldo. I heard many times people saying some version of, “I didn’t know this was here,” which, of course, was the point. Merchants have been delighted. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this kind of effort – maybe using augmented reality.
Finally, I’ll remember this summer for the out-of-the-box stunning success of the Cruze Farm Milk Bar. I’ve never seen anything like it. Yes, they had a fan-base before they arrived at their storefront in the Daylight Building on Union Avenue, and, yes, their ice cream is startlingly good, but this has been crazy. Lines formed the day they opened and they haven’t subsided since. One photograph above shows a line half-way down the block just to get inside – and that was at 9:40 PM when they extended hours because of the Harry Potter release next door at Union Ave. Books. I have no idea if their announced two-month run might be extended or if they might start searching for a permanent location, but I can’t imagine there haven’t been conversations about just that, given the success of the place.
So, those are the things that stood out to me. Was it the same for you? Different? What would you suggest as themes for the summer? Or are you adhering to the actual calendar and this whole exercise is a bunch of malarkey (thanks, Joe)?