Letter: Stop Whimpering, Knoxville. And Kudos to the Farmers' Market!

I am a member of St. John's Cathedral and attend when I can. Just so happens, I am also one of the very few in the country that holds accredited graduate degrees in both business (MBA) and public administration (MPA) with extensive studies and experience in urban planning settings. I also work/consult in areas associated with city and regional planning, economic development, farmers' and public markets, and commercial development while also specializing in creative/technology centric communities and their entrepreneurial efforts.

Simply stated, there is no Walnut Street dilemma. ["The Walnut Street Dilemma," cover story by Jack Neely, June 27, 2013] Although "property rights" was not mentioned until the last few paragraphs of Mr. Neely's War and Peace-esque essay, this is a simple property rights issue and it is nobody's else's business. Unlike other downtown property owners of buildings, the democratic process of having a not-for-profit group is ideal for citizen participation and community representation. In this specific case, a very large "pro-downtown" and very diversified congregation has vetted this issue and has made a decision (just imagine if downtown developers had that much "input" and opinion into their business decisions). With that being said, it is time for outsiders to stop whimpering about the buildings that most folks do not even notice or that the downtown developers had no interest in procuring themselves. Remember, just because something is old does not make it valuable or unique. Another alternative (a win-win), that I put forth here strictly as an individual and not as a representative of St. John's Cathedral, is for someone to purchase those "non-wow-factor buildings" from St. John's Cathedral for a cool $3 million. Don't like those terms? Then move on.

Now to more pressing downtown news, I ran into Ms. Charlotte Tolley, Director of the Market Square Farmers' Market a couple of weeks ago. Ms. Tolley reminded me that the market is in its 10th season. Although I have not sold my organic farm's produce at this market in many years, I did when the market first opened and obviously the market has grown exponentially under Ms. Tolley's leadership and the support from many countless others throughout the years, including the many merchants/volunteers from the Market Square District Association. Trust me, those very first meetings 10 years ago at the Tomato Head and the Downtown Grill & Brewery included a very few of us showing any interest in having a farmers' market.

With that being said, Ms. Tolley is one of the very few true "rainmakers" our community has. The value proposition of living downtown would only be half-fulfilled without having a strong farmers' market. I hope the downtown developers and other community leaders realize how much of their livelihood and product offerings are associated with Ms. Tolley and the Market Square Farmers' Market's success. Likewise, the farmers' market demographic has expanded organically and through relocation of like-minded folks to our area, which has yielded the spinning out of other entrepreneurial initiatives such as food merchants (and now their trucks), crafts and like stores, and beer markets. I do not know what salary Ms. Tolley earns from her duties, but it should be equivalent or more than most economic development executives since her job duties, metrics, and results are actually measurable and most importantly, transparent.

I remember being a keynote speaker back in 2000 here in Knoxville at a downtown-centric event held at UT—just prior to me moving back to the region from working in Silicon Valley and other communities. My lecture was on developing creative and technology based communities. A few people got it when discussing farmers' markets/public markets, most laughed at the idea of "gourmet food trucks, dog parks, urban chicken coops, and beehives," and no one knew what the heck was a beer "growler." The few who actually "got it" were those who that were associated with Market Square—"the Tomato Head crowd." Point being is that Knoxville has come a long way in a very short time. From those initial sparks of the Market Square Farmers' Market opening came the wildfire effect through entrepreneurial and patron efforts that continues to transform our urban and free-market community to a regional and national destination. And the community did it through their very own efforts and the likes of Ms. Tolley actually being on Market Square, and not some of the politicians and/or economic developers who unfortunately boast that they invented "downtown" just like Al Gore claimed that he "created the Internet." Bravo Zulu to Ms. Tolley, the Market Square Farmers' Market, the Market Square District Association, and all the citizens and supporters of our region.

Bill Johns, MBA, MPA

Knox County


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