A New Pedestrian Bridge, A New Location for the Coliseum Proposed and More

Bridgewalk Beneath the Gay Street Bridge

Today we take another deep-dive into downtown design issues. David Denton joins us, once again, to look at some of the most confounding conundrums we face: Access to the river from atop our steep bluff, connectivity to the south waterfront, placement of a new coliseum, restoring the fabric of the city to the east and more. Editorially, I will say that the idea about the coliseum is an exciting one to me. What do you think? Here’s David:

The connection from downtown to the new developments on the south side of the river is currently by way of a narrow walkway on the Gay Street and Henley bridges, both of which are unappealing. The riverfront improvements have not brought the possibilities to full fruition.

One solution might be Knoxville’s version of New York’s Highline. It would be called Bridgewalk and would be a suspended pedestrian walkway below the Gay Street Bridge roadway, which would weave through the bridge structure. This would provide a sheltered walk, which would be visually exciting, and could connect to the riverfront development on the north side with an elevator and stairs landing adjacent to Calhoun’s restaurant. This would connect, in a more successful way, the riverfront with downtown, and the new developments on the south side. With dramatic lighting displays, this Bridgewalk could be a significant draw for visitors to the riverfront.

On the north side, the Bridgewalk would connect to the visitor center of Blount Mansion, and on the south side, would connect with the river walk currently being developed. Perhaps Regal Entertainment, whose new offices would be at the south end of the Bridgewalk, could take the lead in promoting such a project. It would make important pedestrian connections, and provide a unique attraction that would allow Knoxville to tap into the 10 million annual visitors to the nearby Smoky Mountain Park.

Blount Mansion could benefit from adjacency to the Bridgewalk project. Perhaps it would also be made more significant by promoting the mansion along with the James White Fort, as the birthplace of Knoxville. The bridge between the two could be enlivened with street banners, which would give information about both.

Placement of a new coliseum over the James White Parkway

Under consideration by the City is the possibility of razing the existing coliseum while retaining the auditorium. Recent studies have suggested a new arena located to the east of the existing auditorium/coliseum site. Another alternative to consider is to build the new arena and/or stadium over the tangle of roadways between downtown and the existing auditorium/coliseum. It would be built on a platform over the existing roadways. The land could be made available to a developer for such a project, which is within walking distance of four public parking garages, as well as three private garages, which are generally empty after business hours. A major advantage to this location is the adjacency of the bus Transit Center.

The additional cost to bridge over the existing roadways could be more than covered by not having the cost of acquiring land or building parking garages. By placing it in this location with gardens and retail around the base, it could reconnect downtown to the eastside. This would be tremendously beneficial to the James White Fort, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Marriott hotel. The Marriott might possibly be renovated to become an in-town resort hotel with a sports and fitness theme.

James White Parkway, Barrier to East Development, Knoxville, October 2014

The property to the east of the auditorium/coliseum, and including the existing Police Department site, could be developed with a multi-use commercial/residential development that in essence would put back a neighborhood where once originally existed. It would also be an opportunity to connect the new recent apartment developments, which are currently isolated from each other and the downtown. If the auditorium theater is saved perhaps the City could give it to Clarence Brown Theater relieving the City of managing a theater and the maintenance costs involved.

Downtown, as successful as it is becoming, still lacks retail for both visitors and residents. The intersection of Union Ave. and Gay St. is the very heart of the visitors zone. Unfortunately the northwest corner, the Miller’s building, is occupied by a bank, which is not dependent on foot traffic, and which has dark, tinted windows that do not encourage walkability. The southwest corner, the Conley building, is vacant on the ground floor. Perhaps one of these two locations could be developed with a significant retail project that would  improve the connection from Market Square to Gay Street. One possibility would be a Museum Collection in which regional museums would have branches of their gift shops located here with multi-media previews of the museums.


  1. I am a long-time admirer of Inside of Knoxville. The information and opinions offered by David Denton do not meet your normal standards.

    The paragraph about the “property to the east of the auditorium/coliseum . . .” is misinformed, misleading, insulting and amazingly thoughtless.” I hope none of Denton’s ideas see the light of day.

    • Tom I’m missing something. The property he is referring to is currently a big open space of nothing and the safety building. What is insulting about his suggestion?

    • Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I think your statement about that specific paragraph being “misleading” and “insulting” requires more explanation. Why do you feel that is the case?

      I’m not trying to be antagonistic, I really just don’t understand what is misleading or insulting about that paragraph. If there is something I’m missing that might change my opinion of Mr. Denton’s ideas, I’d love to know.

      • In reply to your comment and others: I was trying not to write a column myself–just give my reaction. But here are a few specific things I found wrong with just that one paragraph.

        1. “To put a neighborhood back where one once existed” appropriately pays homage to the neighborhoods wiped out by urban renew in the ’60s but then commits the same error that led to that debacle: ignoring the fact that there is a huge neighborhood in that area, just across the street from the property Denton pinpoints. It’s called public housing, and it is ignored and underserved enough without Denton doing so also. Those apartments and the people who live there are not even mentioned in his “proposals.” Perhaps because just like with the neighborhoods in the 1960s, the people in “that neighborhood” don’t have money or political power and can thus be ignored. That is one of the insulting things I refer to.

        2. He mentions that the “new recent apartment developments are isolated from each other and downtown.” If he is talking about the two relatively new complexes on East Hill, they are within a 5-minute walk of one another and easily walkable even to Downtown. One walk can take you along East Hill with views of the river, the mountains and Suttree Landing for the entire distance; plus there’s the intersection at East Hill and Hall of Fame with historic and scenic aspects, too. Not to mention that those apartments are minutes from South Knoxville and Ijams, Baker’s Creek, Suttree, etc. Plus the people in those two apartment complexes are mostly well-heeled and have automobiles to go where they want when they want. Isolation? Again, what about the folks in the public housing complex, many of whom do not have transportation, are disabled or poor, and struggle to get to doctors, to the grocery store, etc. That’s isolation–not the mild inconvenience that might be caused by traffic or not being next door to the latest restaurant downtown.

        3. Denton is absolutely right that the space currently occupied by the safety building would be a great place for commercial development. This area badly needs a grocery store, pharmacy, etc. Basic things for the long-established residents, the newly arrived ones, and those that are coming. But folks in this area have been talking about these needs for years. Denton’s ideas about the need for mixed residential/commercial development are not new–though perhaps with the arrival of more people with more money the needs will finally be met.

        3. The current city auditorium is not a “theater” in the sense that Clarence Brown is a theater. It is a performing arts venue for concerts by touring artists, the Knoxville Symphony, other arts groups, etc. It is already an asset and can be an even greater (and maybe even profitable) asset to the city with refurbishment and revised management. It is not some inconvenience to be “given” away to Clarence Brown Theater–which has a very specific focus and mission at UT that should not and probably legally could not be entangled with a city property and performance venue.

        Finally: The main reason for my earlier comment was to say that the ideas expressed by Mr. Denton did not fit the standards for thoughtfulness, practicality and awareness normally found in Inside of Knoxville. I am sure he was constrained by time and space–as am I–and perhaps could have explained his ideas better, and it is true that expressing such ideas gets people thinking and talking. I entirely support that. And I don’t know Mr. Denton and have no antagonism toward him.

        But I have lived in East Knoxville–just a skip and hop from the area Mr. Denton is discussing–for 40 years and have seen and heard and evaluated and been to many meetings about ideas for this area in those years.

        I suppose some of the sharper words and tone I have for Mr. Denton’s ideas comes from those experiences. People have paid little attention to this area, its needs or ideas for meeting those needs until the well-connected and well-off start to notice the area, brush aside the people who have lived here for a long time, point out all the shortcomings and describe how things could be so much better if graced by the touches of the enlightened. And so on.

        Forgive me if I am not entirely receptive.

    • Kenneth Moffett says

      I am puzzled by this negative reception of David’s thoughts. It is certainly true that they are subject to debate and criticism, in that they constitute thinking outside the box, but the incremental, “organic” development which presently constitutes the non-strategy for urban development in the downtown area needs just this kind of “what-if” exchange of ideas to help prod us to the next level.

  2. The bridge idea is interesting since river access is so poor from downtown. It doesn’t seem like a major tourist attraction though (not that it has to be).

    Rather than adding another layer to build a stadium, I’d like to see First Creek uncovered and the Useless Parkway to Nowhere removed.

    Speaking of the coliseum, its odd how quiet the city has become about that project. I suspect they will eventually announce a package to pay for both a new coliseum and a new baseball stadium at the same time, in hopes that the popularity of the baseball stadium deflects criticism of spending bazillions on a new minor league hockey barn.

    • It’s not just for the hockey team although they would be the primary tenant. Thompson-Boling is too large for some venues and the current Coliseum is too small for others.

      An event that would normally house 8-9k for an event is not viable for TB and no other facilities are available that I’m aware of.

      And with the current trend, naming rights are easy to do. The “Dollywood D Dome” or the “Clayton Double-Wide” could be a possibility.

  3. On the subject of river access, we still have yet to address the issue of pedestrian access to the NORTH side of the river from the Gay Street level. Savvy Knoxvillians may know the three current ways (hidden Walnut St. bridge, Hill Street viaduct, and by car), but they aren’t obvious or useful to visitors. It seems like the Blount Mansion visitor center is just crying out as a starting point for some kind of bridge or conveyance down to the river level. Until something is created, most will use a car to get there, an extremely wasteful use of resources.

    • He did suggest a connection to the north side of the river: “connect to the riverfront development on the north side with an elevator and stairs landing adjacent to Calhoun’s restaurant.”

  4. David Denton says

    Tom, you may be on to something we all need to hear more about. Please elaborate. The purpose of all of this is to raise awareness and stimulate conversation about these urban planning issues. Passionate opinion is always welcome.

    • David Denton has thoughtfully addressed several evident downtown problems. Thanks for his creative contributions to the conversation. I look forward to hearing more. On the other hand, insulting retorts contribute nothing.

      • amen

      • Mr. Denton was invited to contribute to Inside of Knoxville, but I was not and did not think it appropriate to respond at great length, though I have since done so because people asked for details.

        Whether or not my original comment was insulting is open to debate–as is yours for calling my comment an “insulting retort.” But a strong negative comment such as mine does make a contribution. It lets readers know there are people who strongly disagree with the writer and perhaps makes them wonder why. And it stimulates discussion.

        I contend that my original strongly critical comment about the column made more of a contribution than your strongly negative comment about me.

  5. Hi, Just wanted to share a conceptual image of an elevator tower similar to what Mr. Denton is describing:

  6. As usual, I love your ideas David. Anything that connects the east portion of Knoxville to downtown is much needed to To revitalize East Knoxville economically.

  7. Lynne Martin White says

    Love these ideas. Especially love the pedestrian bridge idea. You know in Memphis they have that really cool monorail / pedestrian bridge across the Wolf River to Mud Island. And has anyone ever talked about ferry service across the river. Just throwing that out there.

  8. Thanks to Mr. Denton for these visionary and out-of-the-box ideas. We need more of this kind of thinking, as others in the comment stream have pointed out. I would also prefer the uncovering of first creek and the removal the James White. It is a horrible wound on the fabric of the city, and everyone knows it is just there to move game day traffic to and from Neyland Stadium 7 Saturdays a year. It is redundant, as Hall of Fame Drive has five lanes and far more traffic capacity than it currently attracts. As it is we have nearly a quarter mile of concrete dividing downtown from the east side. Still, I can appreciate that leaving the JWP, but covering it, might be a more feasible solution than eliminating it. As for the bridge idea, I love that one too. But, there is a simpler solution. Just make the Gay Street Bridge pedestrian/bike only! Chattanooga has already done it. This bridge is totally unnecessary given that the huge Henley Street bridge is just past the old hospital site and south Knoxville can also be accessed from the JWP extension. Is it really a hassle to ask motorists to drive a short distance west before crossing the river, then turning left on Sevier Avenue by the new development at the hospital site? I think not. Closing the Gay Street Bridge would cost nothing, but would accomplish all the same connectivity goals. Imagine festivals on the bridge and the creative waterfall idea broached on this forum last year for the river bluff below the new hospital site development. This could transform downtown into a tourist destination by offering a unique spectacle and connectivity to the urban wilderness experience.

    • Wow…cover JWP (and use the “covering” as a pedestrian/bike friendly greenway development) and Gay St Bridge as ped/bike only. I like it! Trolley system must be synced with all this and scrap “no trolley on game day” policy.

  9. I don’t understand why we haven’t heard anything about the coliseum. It needs to be torn down and replaced already with something bigger and nicer. And I agree that the Marriott needs a renovation. Especially to compete with the new dual branded one. But I’m confused what he means by “fitness themed”

  10. David Denton says

    Thank you for your response, Tom. I was hoping for this kind of in-depth analysis. I agree with you completely. My intention in these proposals was only how to bridge the gap created by this over-engineered complex of highways. Beyond that, the connections that need to be made to East Knoxville are extremely complicated. From the view out my window I can see the Coliseum, the Marriott and the Public Housing project to which you refer. Frankly, I don’t know how all of that can be tied together. The obstacles are formidable. But I completely agree with you that it is a problem that has been ignored. I think some very focused conversation and ideas-generation should be considered. I would be very pleased to participate in such an effort.

    • As one who crosses to DT from the South Riverfront, walking or on bicycle, several times a week I applaud Randy’s suggested solution to turn the Gay Street bridge into a ped-cycleway. With the soon arrival of hundreds of residents and office workers on the South Waterfront the matter of access becomes more than just an academic concern. And the easing of access to the Urban Wilderness would have great benefits. One of the memorable tourists attractions in Chattanooga has indeed been their pedestrian friendly bridge.

    • Thanks for your gracious and understanding reply.

      I fully support most of the things being done to make Knoxville more liveable and attractive. However, one reason I reacted so strongly is that many basic needs in my neighborhood and many other neighborhoods in the city do not get proper attention and resources– for problems such as blight and abandoned houses, proper lighting, sidewalks (none on my street), inner-neighborhood traffic problems, crime, litter, and some basic services that we sometimes have to cajole and beg for.

      In such a situation, I find it annoying that so much attention is paid to the “isolation” of a couple of apartment complexes occupied mostly by the privileged or that people are annoyed by the wide streets and lack of easier pedestrian access to here or there.

      Improvements in those types of things would be great, but first how about more attention to the basics for some long-existing neighborhoods and long-suffering residents?

      And let’s be very frank about one thing: except for the fact that these areas are now being moved into and paid attention to by persons of certain economic status, political power and skin color, we would not be discussing this section of East Knoxville, would we?

  11. David Denton says

    You’re right.

  12. gregory austin says

    We just walked the Gay Street Bridge yesterday while downtown and discussed exactly the plan outlined. Closing the bridge to motorized traffic is a no/low cost plan that would open a world of lovely possibilities. Let’s do it Ms. Mayor.

  13. Uhh, absolutely nothing will ever be built in the city of unbuilt proposals. I can not begin to list off the downtown projects that have been proposed and faded into the night quietly. Grand, wonderful projects that simply never get talked about again.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I’ll let this comment stand and delete the one that said, “Knoxville sucks.” Nothing will ever be built? Do you live here? Have you seen what has been built in the last ten years? Seriously.

      • MetroKnoxSupporter says

        UrbanGuy, Tidd has some valid arguments. Much of what we have seen that has been built is primarily food and drinking establishments. A lot of these restaurants and breweries may or may not disappear during the next recession.

        There has been quite a few buildings built but many of those are outside the downtown area as defined by you. I am not disparaging the progress made but it may take someone, probably in Knoxville and/or county govt. or at U.T. to develop a more robust strategic vision for the future downtown area.

        Could be something as simple as re-working the J.W. Parkway, increasing the size of the Coliseum to attract events that currently will not come to Knox. or re-working KAT to serve areas of the city that do not have it. May be something at U.T. such as cleaning up its front, on the 1-40 side, increasing green space by building underground garages, etc.

        We have made quite a bit of progress and I am not dismissing it but it may be time to think bigger and that may be regional in nature as well with downtown being the first among equals neighborhood of the region.

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