When I moved into downtown Knoxville in 2009 and stumbled into the Central Business Improvement District, now re-branded as the Downtown Knoxville Alliance, it was already sixteen years old. Formed in 1993 during some of downtown’s most difficult years, the purpose was to pool a small tax on downtown residents and businesses and leverage that money into a better center city.
By 2000, its budget had crossed a quarter million dollars and the organization was engaged in helping the cause of laying the foundation of what would become downtown Knoxville’s incredible resurgence. Today the budget is over $800,000 and the status of downtown and the goals of the organization have evolved with time.
A significant number of downtown buildings were given substantial facade grants in the years I first started following the organization and, now, largely, the older downtown buildings have been preserved for this generation. An effort was undertaken starting last year to examine the state of downtown and the role the organization might most helpfully play as it moves into a new era.
Downtown residents, workers and visiting guests now enjoy what some have described as a surprisingly vibrant city – at all times of day. The district now includes dining, hotels, shopping, theaters, parks, public art and more, all in a 0.67-square-mile, walkable area. As of June 7, the CBID will be known as the Downtown Knoxville Alliance (DKA). The name and corresponding logo reflect extensive research conducted by Robin Easter Design with downtown stakeholders and the organization’s staff, board and committee members.
“Our goal with the new name and brand is to reflect the vibrancy of Downtown Knoxville today,” DKA Executive Director Michele Hummel said. “Downtown Knoxville is moving beyond the ‘improvement’ stage, and the Downtown Knoxville Alliance now is focused on retaining and attracting a thriving community of residents, businesses and visitors.”
Through the research, the district was characterized as an inviting, inclusive and intimate community offering a unique and diverse selection of dining, musical, artistic and cultural experiences. “Downtown Knoxville receives high praise for its incredible energy; blend of history and unique character; and the quality and variety of arts, culture and cuisine offered in a walkable district,” said Tim Hill, chair of the DKA board of directors. “The Alliance will continue to support these defining characteristics as we embrace the possibilities of this renewed brand.”
The organization, which you’ll now see referenced as Downtown Knoxville or the Downtown Knoxville Alliance, depending on context, is more focused today on quality of life issues for residents, visitors and workers in the downtown area. They support events, like festivals and Nourish Knoxville’s Farmers’ Market, as well as the First Friday Art Walk. It offers support to businesses in the form of contests like “Where’s Waldo,” which will begin next month, as well as the Peppermint Trail and Elf on the Shelf games at Christmas, all of which encourage exploration of downtown businesses.
It also coordinates with other downtown organizations such as Visit Knoxville, the City of Knoxville and Dogwood Arts to make the city the best it can be as it moves forward. In addition to paying for beautification efforts (the flowers along Gay Street and on Market Square), security is also an emphasis, with off-duty police officers assigned to the downtown area.
The focus groups that led to these changes (Full disclosure: I was a participant) repeatedly emphasized the civic pride of those gathered in the expanding cultural, culinary, entertainment and hospitality offerings of the city. Our friendly, welcoming attitude, as well as our creative spirit were often noted. Several phrases emerged from these groups that encapsulate our spirit, like “old soul, young heart,” “historic beauty, innovative spirit,” and “reliably unpretentious, unpredictably fun.”