East Tennessee Community Design Center Celebrates 50+ Years of Service

Bo Roberts, Mayor Randy Tyree, Duane Grieve, ETCDC Celebration, World's Fair Park, Knoxville, August 2022
Bo Roberts, Mayor Randy Tyree, Duane Grieve, ETCDC Celebration, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, August 2022

(Article and photos by guest writer Heather Ryerson)

If you are newer to Knoxville like I am, you may not know about the East Tennessee Community Design Center (ETCDC). In 1970, the late Bruce McCarty, came alongside roughly 40 other professionals to create a community design center. 

The ETCDC objective is “to make East Tennessee a better place by bringing together professional design and planning assistance to communities and organizations lacking resources to acquire those services.” Their mission is put simply: Envision, Inspire, and Improve East Tennessee communities through design, collaboration, and leadership. 

What this means to the lay person is they offer design services through pro-bono work of area architects, landscape artists, community planners and engineers and other professionals to allow those groups who could not ordinarily afford to enlist such services to have quality and professional guidance to enhance the mission for their communities. 

ETCDC Celebration, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, August 2022

ETCDC offerings range from simple façade improvements to master plans for entire communities; urban, suburban, and rural. Their clients are non-profits, community groups and neighborhood organizations. Some of the projects they have contributed to around the community in recent years are a landscape plan for the Childhelp Children’s Center of East Tennessee, a First Creek Park Vision Plan, improvements along MLK, a plan to build an addition to the CAC Mobile Meals Kitchen, and so many more. 

Their numbers show an impressive impact on our community!
They have:
*Served over 100,000 children each year through their assistance to organizations serving those children
*Contributed an over $25 million economic impact through their projects in the last 10 years
*Designed 207 community parks across East Tennessee
*Completed over 1,200 projects since 1970

Last week, ETCDC and supporters gathered for a ‘Celebration at World’s Fair Park’ to honor members of the community for their contributions and present a hefty donation to Visit Knoxville for enhancement plans at the iconic Sunsphere. 

They celebrated in 1980’s World’s Fair theme with small plate food offerings from Holly’s Gourmet Market and Café with dishes from around the world while dressed in their favorite 80’s fashions. Music from the 80’s era crooned by Liquid Velvet made the atmosphere even more authentic for attendees. 

ETCDC Celebration, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, August 2022

ETCDC handed out the Bruce McCarty Community Impact Award to Mayor Randy Tyree (1976-1983) for his commitment to building a better future for our region. He has worked in law enforcement, community service and politics. Mayor Tyree contributed to the planning of the 1982 World’s Fair, the drive for the Knoxville Convention Center, initiated the first waterfront development, allocated $600 million in public transportation improvements and upgrades and promoted redevelopment of downtown Knoxville. 

The Annette Anderson Director’s Award went to Sunset Gap Community Center for their commitment to making East Tennessee a Better Place. Sunset Gap resides on the lines of Cocke and Sevier counties and serves as a hub for service groups to work in the community and improve the lives of those in rural Appalachian communities. For example, the group builds ramps on homes for those with disabilities and operates a food pantry on the grounds of the community center. 

ETCDC met their own fundraising goal this year and then additionally donated $36k to Visit Knoxville to support their initiative to improve and enhance the offerings of the Sunsphere in World’s Fair Park through the Sunsphere Fund. Kim Bumpas, President of Visit Knoxville, was on hand to accept the award. She tells me this contribution will go toward enhancements of the guest experience at the Sunsphere.

ETCDC Celebration, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, August 2022

The reopening saw a change from free admission to $5 admission (kids 12 and under are still free) to reach the observation deck. Bumpas says there was minimal pushback on the new fee but the funds are already contributing to a better visitor experience.  Since reopening, they have greeted over 32,000 visitors from all 50 states and 29 countries from around the world.

Bo Roberts, 1982 World’s Fair President, was the keynote speaker for the Celebration at World’s Fair Park. He shared lessons learned and favorite memories from his time with organizing and attending the World’s Fair. My favorite of his lessons learned was, “It ain’t gonna go perfectly, but keep on truckin’!” This advice speaks to the perfectionist in us all.

The memory that stood out to him the most from the experience of attending the World’s Fair was seeing the joy in the faces of people from different cultures and countries as they experienced each other’s foods and traditions. I can imagine that for most who attended, they may never get the chance to travel to those countries, but having that experience opened their world view with every sight, sound and taste. 

ETCDC Executive Director, Duane Grieve had this to say about the evening. “The event was great in spite of the heat! It could not have been done without a great Board and committee headed by Alli Montgomery, Lizz Wetherall, Megan Chafin, a host of volunteers and the Board. Everyone appeared to enjoy themselves and with the Tennessee Amphitheater and the Sunsphere it proved to be a successful venue.”

ETCDC Celebration, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, August 2022

One of my favorite things about Knoxville is how the city encompasses and embraces cultures from around the globe. We have many multi-cultural festivals and fairs going on year-round in Knoxville. Coming up at the end of August is the Asian Festival, and we are just coming off of the Irish Fest on the Hill and the Kuumba Festival hosted in Market Square. 

Be sure to be in the know on these events and others by viewing the 10 Day Planner!

September 2022 will bring the next Park(ing) Day on Gay St. ETDC partners with East Tennessee American Institute of Architects (AIA) to bring this unique afternoon to the city. Various vendors and businesses create booths in parking spaces along the street to show off their talents and engage the community and displays their talents. Park(ing) day is an event that “challenges us to rethink the use of public space by converting metered parking spaces into temporary parklets; from space dedicated to stationary cars to ones filled with people and activity.” Check out some of last year’s photos here and here!

 To see what else is coming up next with the ETCDC, visit their website, check out their projects around the city, or contribute your own professional or creative resources to their mission.

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