cover_story (2005-52)

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Dogwoods and Operas

Downtown Cinema

Politics as Usual

A Tale of Two Theaters

Rive Gauche

Lofty Aspirations

Gay Street Viaduct

State of the Square Address

Politics as Usual

Downtown Demolition Derby

Closed For Business

Fire on the Hill

Downtown No. 2?

Centers Aplenty

Crumbles of Keller

Local and Semi-local Literati

Get Your History Here

Two Wheels and a Path to Put Them On

Knoxville Marathon

Indie Bookstores

Welcome to the Hotel That’s Not Born Yet

Metro Pulse Launches Knoxville Magazine

Other Shifts in the Local Media Scene

Goody’s Sold, Sort Of

Revolt of the “Clear Skies”

Big Coal vs. Stubborn Environmentalists

We Won! (Cough)

Cup-A-Joe Closings

Celebrity Sightings

JFG Moving

Censorship at Oak Ridge

Hank Days

Fort Sanders Developments

Sugar for Sweet William

The Wheels Stayed On

Reaching Ever Higher

Hearts Still Throb in Peyton’s Old Place

Up Turkey Creek and Paddling Wildly

IPIX Packs up for Virginia

Bass Pro Shops

Farewell, Harold’s

Bonnaroo and Vegoose

Under the Weather

UT Football Season

Yokel

WDVX Blue Plate Special

Come Out Knoxville

The year 2005 was not just another year by Knoxville standards. It turned out to be a period of near-perpetual motion, where even when momentum slowed, it showed no sign of moving toward a halt. The flurry of downtown activity, including the grand reopening of the Tennessee Theatre and the groundbreaking for the Regal cineplex up the street, both bolstered and was boosted by the demand for more downtown residential options.

And the movement wasn’t limited to downtown, even though it was centered there. New residential and commercial construction popped up in every corner of the city and county.

Business and economic activity flourished, employment opportunities grew, and the grumbling that has characterized the Knoxville community more often than not in its past seemed subdued, if not silenced.

Not all was rosy. The city’s and county’s budgets were stretched thin, as was the state’s. Education spending, from pre-K through the university level, was only a little better than dismal, as taxes and tax collections remained relatively level while costs inexorably rose.

But, on balance, we’d have to say we’re proud of the community’s accomplishments in the past year, which has set the stage for an even better 2006 performance. Here are some of the things that caught our eyes and ears as this year played out.

 

Dogwoods and Operas The astonishing Rossini Festival, the annual Knoxville Opera Company celebration that is America’s only festival honoring Bugs Bunny’s favorite Italian composer, was once again a success in its fourth year. Seating in the theaters to see the actual operas—Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment and Rossini’s The Marriage Bill is finite, but the Italian Street Fair on Gay Street only seems to get a little crazy. Official estimates of the crowd ranged as high as 65,000, and all we can say is that we can’t disprove it. Who would have guessed a festival honoring a 19th-century opera composer would be Knoxville’s most popular one-day (non-football) festival ever?

However, Maestro Frank Graffeo, the KOC director who launched the festival, left the opera company soon after this year’s occasion. Some opera supporters were frustrated by his cost overruns, but Knoxville should be grateful for his weird faith that Knoxvillians will voluntarily come out once a year by the tens of thousands to pretend they’re Italian. 

Graffeo and his young family stayed in Knoxville, where he joined the Joy of Music Youth Music School while continuing his performing of guest conductorships around the country.

Meanwhile, the sober version of Knoxville’s April festival, the venerable Dogwood Arts Festival, reined into one long weekend centered around Market Square, also seemed plenty festive.

The Greek Festival, held for a second year at the World’s Fair Park in the sweltering heat of an August Saturday, drew thousands to stand in line for the food and live music and rare Greek libations. Some who attended were surprised the organizers were counting on more, and blaming the heat for a disappointing total. The park’s fountains were at times more popular than the ouzo.

Downtown Cinema On January 12, Mayor Haslam announced the forthcoming construction of a downtown movie theater and the inking of a contract with Regal Cinemas. But before anyone had much time to cheer about the fitting of the largest cog into the downtown development scheme, they also announced that they didn’t know where exactly to position the eight screen, 2000-seat theater. Two alternatives were presented: One would involve the demolition of six historic Gay Street buildings on the 500 block, including the beloved S&W Cafeteria; the other plan would preserve the first 60 feet (the minimum amount needed to obtain historic tax credits) of three of the buildings for retail space and wrap the cinema around them. The latter plan was estimated to cost $3 million more than the first.

Knox Heritage reps met with Haslam and pledged to find a plan that would bridge the cost gap and allow the City to rescue most of the buildings on the 500 block. The 500 Block Task Force was conceived.

In April their wishes were granted; the mayor unveiled an $11.5 million plan to keep several of the 500 block buildings on the streetscape. The blueprints for the cinema have it laid to the north, and to the rear, of the S&W.

In October and November clouds of dust and the sounds of tumbling brick brought the first tangible evidence of progress as the old Walgreens building and The Gant Ogden Stationers Building were demolished. In the meantime, officials began to sweat about having not yet received the $1.5 million in New Market Tax Credits they were counting on, but they came rolling in by early December. Construction is slated to begin in January and be completed in November.

 

Politics as Usual The City Council elections of 2005 didn’t promise much, but they almost delivered an upset before the incumbents were re-elected en masse. Steve Hall was defeated in his Northwest district, including his home precinct, in the primary by Ellen Adcock, the activist and former chief of administration for the city, but Mr. Don’t-Tax-Me prevailed narrowly in citywide voting in the general election. A couple of failed write-in campaigns against South Knoxville’s Joe Hultquist provided the only other election entertainment of note, as Vice Mayor and East Knoxvillian Mark Brown, North Knoxville’s Rob Frost and West Knoxville’s Barbara Pelot were returned for second terms and became instant lame ducks under the city’s term limits.

 

A Tale of Two Theaters When one door opens, another slams shut…or so it goes with historic Gay Street theaters. The 78-year-old Tennessee Theatre reintroduced itself to society last January with the cache of a born-again Southern debutant, thanks to something more than an architectural boob job and an aesthetic hair-do reminiscent of the one she had in her youth. Today’s Tennessee sparkles with the knowledge of her own majesty. With restored $150,000 Czech chandeliers dangling from her ceiling like the biggest, fanciest set of earrings the city has ever seen, she bears the banner of Official State Theater of Tennessee like a beauty-pageant winner wears her sash. Now the life of the party and favorite arm ornament of AC Entertainment, the veritable entertainment palace hosted a little black book full of big-name music concerts, movies and dance performances over the course of the past year—and at last, her reputation precedes her. By March, the Tennessee was ranked No. 47 on Pollstar’s list of the World’s Top 50 Theatres based on first-quarter attendance, outranking the Ryman Auditorium for the first time in history. Does anybody else smell a catfight?

Meanwhile, across the street, the Tennessee Theatre’s 96-year-old neighbor, the Bijou, was relegated to the unpleasant task of sitting back and watching everybody else have all the fun. Since its Board of Trustees closed it in 2004 due to financial woes, the Bijou has been wallowing in the depths of her own depression—feeling unused, unwanted, fat, wrinkled and, most importantly, broke. But earlier this year, the situation took a turn for the better: In March, Knoxville businessmen Fred Langley and Sam Furrow prevented a foreclosure on the theater’s $731,000 mortgage by purchasing the debt, followed by Congressman John Duncan Jr.’s commitment of $571,608 in federal support for its restoration. Even AC Entertainment, with its Don Juan charm, got down on one knee and proposed that they make beautiful music together. By the end of the year, it seemed quite certain—this old girl was on the verge of a full-fledged comeback. The grand re-opening is expected to take place in April 2006.

 

Rive Gauche The city launched a massive initiative to redevelop the grubby, partly industrial, kudzu-bedecked south side of the river, mainly by encouraging private investment with new infrastructure, including improved streets parallel to the river, and waterfront walkways. The Southside project is still in the early planning stages, but some developers aren’t waiting; a large luxury condominium project at the dead end of what was once underscaled, quaintly gnomish old Scottish Pike, appears to be near completion.

 

Lofty Aspirations After years of wondering what we’d do with blighted blocks, in 2005 developers snatched up empty buildings like free pizza, as some of the very last vacant buildings, like the attractive but long-forsaken Cherokee and Ely buildings on Church, commenced renovation as residential, office and retail space. Cook Lofts at Gay and Cumberland opened for short-term stays.

Finished in 2005 was the building behind everybody’s favorite facade, the lopsided marble keyhole that marks the long-vacant Dr. Samuel Rush Miller building, better known to some as the old Knoxville Business College; a project begun by David Dewhirst but finished by English developer Geoffrey Nash, it’s now five condos. Joining the party were the Fire Street Lofts, in an industrial building behind the recently finished Emporium building near the Old City, and what may have been the only building to stay vacant in the Old City proper all these years, a building on the south end of the Old City, now renovated as luxury condos.

Lerner Lofts and the Phoenix Building, both on the once-problematic 400 block of Gay Street, opened for business, and were almost immediately occupied by residents, the latter augmented by a new coffee shop and dry cleaner; the long-empty old Newcomer’s (a.k.a. White Store) Building on Gay was announced as the next Mast General Store, the only East Tennessee presence of the popular North Carolina-based chain. Even the old J.C. Penney’s Building commenced renovations as a new condominium, with plans for adding a couple more floors to the top. Gay’s 400 block of large buildings abandoned in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s by westward-migrating retail was once the poster child of downtown blight, but seemed suddenly healthy and growing in 2005. The opening of Sapphire, an upscale bar/restaurant in the old Kimball’s space, added some class to the joint.

The heights of condo fever may have been reached as three of the tallest older buildings downtown, the Burwell, the Farragut and the Holston, all at the intersection of Gay and Clinch, began conversion from office buildings with cavernous vacancies into upscale residential condominiums.

 

Gay Street Viaduct In November the Gay Street Viaduct, reaching over the Norfolk Southern railroad yard and connecting Jackson and Depot Avenues, was dismantled. The 86-year-old viaduct was deemed too blighted for continued use and will be replaced with a new concrete viaduct by Dec. 1, 2006. The new viaduct will have 50 parking spots and sidewalks. In the meantime, detour signs direct traffic around the gash. The City will foot 20 percent of the $4.7 million project, with TDOT covering the rest.

 

State of the Square Address This year marks a special point in the evolution of Market Square. Every year, the prospect of living in a loft there and never leaving seems increasingly possible. With the blossoming of the now bi-weekly Farmer’s Market, one could easily live on a bountiful diet of the sweetest berries, most deeply colored root and garden vegetables, the greenest herbs, freshest heirloom ‘maters, breads, and even free-range organic meats, all locally raised, for half of the year. And there’s no shortage of eateries and watering holes, with the addition of Oodles Wine Bar and restaurant and the cavernous, mystical World Grotto, which is now officially the best place in town to get your glam on, drink snazzy cocktails, and dance your heiny off. Its rocklike walls studded with geodes and steaming fountains are like the lair of some sinister mastermind in a 1930s serial, perhaps updated by Hugh Hefner, working in partnership with Batman. The nightclub has a stage and a good-sized dancefloor and a bejewled bar. Oh, and they have art, too, in the upstairs gallery.

Though the loss of our only downtown bookstore, Market Square Booksellers, was disheartening, the space was quickly replaced by a new art gallery called Through the Lens, providing an opportunity for visual diversion to loft-dwellers and visitors alike. And, with second-hand clothing at ReRuns, whimsical attire at Vagabondia and cute couture at Indigo, the boutique that recently moved downtown from its previous Old City location, downtowners can meet many wardrobe needs, plus all things home are offered at Bliss+Art and the new furniture store, Bliss+Home. Developer John Craig, owner of Segundo properties, bought 24 Market Square partly because he learned his great-grandfather may have built the place for his furniture store, and filled it out in the perfect mixed-use combination: retail on ground floor, offices on second, residences on third and fourth.

A new city parking garage to the immediate west of the square on the site that some still stubbornly call “the old Watson’s Parking Lot” added hundreds of new spaces accessible to the square. In its early weeks, it has often seemed underused, but on the night of the Santa Claus Parade, it was reportedly packed to the gills.

 

Politics as Usual The City Council elections of 2005 didn’t promise much, but they almost delivered an upset before the incumbents were re-elected en masse. Steve Hall was defeated in his Northwest district, including his home precinct, in the primary by Ellen Adcock, the activist and former chief of administration for the city, but Mr. Don’t-Tax-Me prevailed narrowly in citywide voting in the general election. A couple of failed write-in campaigns against South Knoxville’s Joe Hultquist provided the only other election entertainment of note, as Vice Mayor and East Knoxvillian Mark Brown, North Knoxville’s Rob Frost and West Knoxville’s Barbara Pelot were returned for second terms and became instant lame ducks under the city’s term limits.

 

Downtown Demolition Derby At year’s end, the S&W, the art-deco cafeteria vacant since 1982, mostly stripped of its unusual furnishings and repeatedly threatened with demolition and an occasional cause celebre over the years, appeared on track to be developed privately adjacent to the downtown-cinema project next door. Wayne Blasius and John Craig, who each have successful renovations under their belts, have entered into an exclusive negotiating contract with the city.

Fortunately, downtown Knoxville lost most of its vacant buildings to renovation, but demolition’s bloody scythe claimed a few. One modest Victorian building and the 1930s Walgreens, a setting for 1960 civil-rights sit-ins, which had for a time been contemplated to be saved in part as part of the cinema project, both bit the dust in the fall.

The lengthy demolition of the huge old News-Sentinel building at State and Church was completed early in the year. Nothing has replaced it yet, though some are still entertaining hopes of building a new main library there. For the time being, people are commenting how lovely it looks as a green slope. For the first time in its gritty history, State Street could serve as the opening scene for The Sound of Music.

And earlier in 2005, preservationists lost one major battle when Home Federal exercised its constitutional right to demolish the ca. 1904 Sprankle Building, a classic five-story brick apartment house at Union and Walnut; it included what may have been Knoxville’s oldest intact restaurant space, which in itself had an unusually interesting history. The demolition was the decisive end to a drama that peaked a few years back; after the bank evicted the building’s several tenants, Mayor Victor Ashe attempted to preserve it through force of law. Some developers had expressed interest in buying and developing the building as mixed-use residential and retail, as it was originally. But Home Federal said they needed the space for its expanding headquarters, announcing plans for a somewhat smaller office building to be built in 2007. Sympathy for the building tended to be divided generationally: Several older folks, who remembered its mid-century status as a whorehouse, seemed relieved to see it go. Many younger people, who have lately been paying a lot of money to live in buildings like that, saw it another opportunity lost.

Is the party over? Can it be that downtown is nearly bereft of vacant buildings? If anything can stop the trend, bet on the part of downtown most visible to interstate passersby, the frustrating McClung Warehouses on West Jackson, victim of a stalemate between the owner/developer and the city and still moribund, years after a major residential redevelopment project was announced.

 

Closed For Business A year ago, some were expecting there might be two or more groceries competing for the Market Square area market, but as it is there are none; A.G. Hamby delayed its opening due to construction problems, and the Food Co-op, once expected to move into larger quarters downtown, ended the year considering other solutions to its space problems. The eccentric new and used bookstore known as Market Square Booksellers closed after disappointing sales. The New City Cafe, the Christian-oriented no-alcohol nightclub that has operated in the Old City since the ‘90s, closed in October, perhaps temporarily, perhaps not. The interior appears to be intact, but according to a mysterious window placard, the care is on what it described as a “Sabbath Season” not further explained.

 

Fire on the Hill And the poor marble-front Crimson Building, one of the first historic buildings to be renovated for upscale residential purposes in the ‘90s, spent most of 2005 stained with soot and surrounded by construction barriers. A late-night fire almost gutted the building at the corner of Gay and Summit Hill. Condominium owners were at first confident about rebuilding, but questions about the fire’s origin—the fire department calls the January blaze “suspicious” but was never able to prove arson—have tied up the settlement. Some former residents are still hopeful that things will work out and construction to rebuild the building’s roof will recommence soon.

 

Downtown No. 2? Downtown living caught on even in the suburbs, as developers led by the James Doran Co. of Charleston, S.C., broke ground on the Northshore Town Center project along Pellissippi Parkway in far West Knoxville. The planned pedestrian-oriented community of shops, offices, and residences, unusual for Knoxville, commenced what may be a 10-year buildout. Though the project has yet to sign major retailers or office tenants, residential interest in this new-urbanist community of small yards and alleys and front porches is brisk.

Some were startled when a trendy restaurant suddenly materialized in the middle of what had been the playground hill of old Concord Park in West Knox County. The Lakeside Tavern will pay the county rent based on its receipts.

 

Centers Aplenty Center fever swept UT in 2005. Or, at least, that’s the way it seemed this fall. The Center for Jacksonian Studies opened with what passes for scholarly fanfare in October. At the center of the center are the first Tennessee president’s voluminous papers, which scholars are sorting through.

The Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, which has hosted a series of interesting lecturers from David Halberstam to Art Buchwald, held a “groundbreaking” in Thompson-Boling Arena, attended by the retired senator and ambassador himself, with the controversial guest of honor Vice President Dick Cheney; some blamed Cheney’s presence for the sparse turnout for the event. Not to mention the promised two-hour wait called for by security.

Predictably, some found in the event an opportunity to protest the war, and were escorted to the safety of campus.

The Baker Center’s headquarters will soon be under construction—not inside the Arena, where they held the high-security “groundbreaking,” but at the corner of Melrose and Cumberland.

 

Crumbles of Keller Unfortunately, the Baker Center just wouldn’t tolerate the continued existence of the historic Keller house, the handsome early-20th century brick home on Cumberland near Melrose once occupied by civic leader Ernest Keller, cousin of reformer Helen Keller, who sometimes stayed there. A well-meant effort by a local entrepreneur to move the house to another location up the hill in Fort Sanders came to naught when it was proven to be too wide to make the hard right onto 17th Street. The house was torn down during the summer. At year’s end, Cumberland Avenue has only one surviving remnant of the era when it was residential, a family neighborhood: the house known today as the Longbranch Saloon.

 

Local and Semi-local Literati At 72, Knoxville-raised author Cormac McCarthy, now of New Mexico, has never been sexier, depicted on the cover of the New York Times Book Review in a woodcut rendering by Knoxville’s own Yee Haw Industries. The feature coincided with the publication of his thriller, No Country For Old Men.

A James Agee conference, held mostly at UT in April near the 50th anniversary of the Pulitzer-winning author’s death, attracted an interesting array of authors, scholars, and even composers. The celebrity everyone remembers was the author’s daughter, Didi Agee, who gave a talk based on her memories of her father who died suddenly when she was a small girl. It was for the New Yorker a rare visit to her father’s hometown.

Another highlight was local poet-prophet R.B. Morris’s rendition of his one-man show, The Man Who Lives Here Is Loony. He wrote the play almost 20 years ago, but has only been able to produce it legally recently, due to the softening of the once-censorious Agee estate. In August, he performed it at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York’s Greenwich Village.

The Peter Taylor Prize for novels went to New Jersey author John Parras for his novel, Fire on Mount Maggiore. Part of the October ceremony involved a late-night lantern-lit series of readings at the Taylor plot in Old Gray Cemetery—a site which forms the opening scene of Peter Taylor’s final novel—attended by about 50 literateurs. Parras, astonished by the to-do, threatened to write a New Yorker story about it.

 

Get Your History Here Early in the year, the East Tennessee History Center was finally completed, architecturally, at least. The major two-step project added to the old Custom House at Market and Clinch, in character, with an entrance on Gay Street, and then renovated the original building to be incorporated with the new one. With that renovation, the center was finally completed early in 2005. The McClung Collection, on the third floor sprawled across the entire expanse of the old and new buildings, reoccupying the old courtroom as a reading room; and the Museum of East Tennessee History opened its “streetscape” exhibit of a restored Island Home streetcar and a reconstructed early 20th-century pharmacy. Exhibit space nearby saw several shows during the year. The greater part of the ground floor remains unused, pending funding for the long-delayed permanent history museum. The building still has some oddball quirks, like access to the second and third floors only by elevator, and a gorgeous hallway of local and historic art on the second floor of the old building so far accessible only to employees and escorted guests.

 

Two Wheels and a Path to Put Them On Knoxville’s far-flung network of Greenways expanded further in 2005, perhaps most impressively with the extension of the Will Skelton Greenway, a bike trail that now leads from the Island Home neighborhood deep into the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area. Now those who work downtown and ride a bike can sling a shotgun over their back and do a little dove hunting during the lunch hour.

Knoxville’s efforts have earned the city an unexpected place in a national inventory of Bicycle-Friendly Communities compiled by the League of American Bicyclists—though it was educational programs and the installation of new bike racks that earned Knoxville the designation. It’s encouraging, but not a laurel to rest on. At least 50 American communities, including Chattanooga, ranked higher than Knoxville did on the list.

 

Knoxville Marathon March’s first annual Knoxville Marathon should win some kind of medal in and of itself, for convincing thousands of local runner wannabes to get up off their lazy asses and hit the pavement. The race took participants on a semi-magical, semi-torturous journey through the heart of Knox Vegas, starting at the Sunsphere and ending at Neyland Stadium, where finishers had the thrill of seeing their sweaty, smiling faces projected onto the Jumbotron. Charles Kibiwot from Germantown, Md., took home the golden speeding ticket, scorching his way through the 26.2 miles in just over two hours and 22 minutes. And the Knoxville Track Club’s own Eric Vandervort was the top finisher from Tennessee and claimed eighth place overall. Inspired? You’d better kick start your running shoes’ engines right away. March 26, 2006 will be here soon.

 

Indie Bookstores Knoxville readers have long bemoaned their lack of a full-service independent bookstore—the sort that sells mostly new books, and lots of them—and in early 2005, it got two: Carpe Librum, in Bearden, and the Lost Savant, in North Knoxville.

What Bearden gained with Carpe Librum the neighborhood lost, sort of, when McKay’s amazing used-book store moved into a warehouse-sized building near the interstate, about a mile to the west.

 

Welcome to the Hotel That’s Not Born Yet Who can argue the parallels between the Hotel California and Knoxville proper? “We are all just prisoners here/ of our own device?” Sounds familiar. “You can check out any time you like/ but you can never leave?” Rings a bell. “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell?” Hit the nail on the head already. Unfortunately, downtown Knoxville’s newest hotel developers missed the connection; it’s doubtful that “mirrors on the ceiling” and “pink champagne on ice” were included in the plans for either the under-construction sic-story Hampton Inn on the corner of Main and Henley Streets or the opened-in-August, with a little help from Peyton Manning, Cumberland House Hotel at 1109 White Ave. Ah, well. The next time your head grows heavy and your sight grows dim after a long night at your favorite downtown watering hole, at least you’ll have a place to stop for the night. And it sure won’t hurt during football season. Or during conventions. In fact, these hotels could be one of the best things to hit downtown since, well, the Sunsphere. To the Eagles, if you’re listening, we’d be happy to sell you the rights.

 

Metro Pulse Launches Knoxville Magazine Let’s not kid ourselves: a handful of us here at Metro Pulse have always been a little suspicious of all things suburban. We urbanites run in circles laced with punks, hipsters and anarchists; the suburban dwellers have perfectly manicured toenails and vote Republican. We ride our bicycles to the Pilot Light; they drive their SUVs to West Town Mall. We’re rival gangs, like the Sharks and the Jets or, to employ a non-cultural analogy they’d understand, UT versus Alabama. We’ll never have anything in common, right? Wrong. Metro Pulse ’s launch of Knoxville Magazine found us writing about things we never thought our rebel pens could handle, like home décor and fashion and, gulp, the joy of football. But it wasn’t as bad as we thought. In fact, it was kind of fun—and the slick, colorful and heavyweight magazine is, admittedly, a lot prettier than the scrappy alt-rag we crank out every week. Finally, we were working for a magazine we could take home to our moms. And best of all, the Metro Pulse edge shines through in every issue, putting Knoxville Magazine head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Now, when we see the magazine in area newsstands, we’re proud to say, “Hey, that’s our kid sister—a publication that’s equal parts smart, attractive and entertaining.” Then, with a brotherly shrug, we add, “Must’ve gotten it from us.”

 

Other Shifts in the Local Media Scene Just when we thought E.W. Scripps’ empire had run out of media territory to conquer, it sent its corporate tentacles out into the newsstands of Halls and Fountain City. In a semi-surprising turn of events, the Halls Shopper News signed on to the Scripps roster that already includes the News Sentinel , HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network and Fine Living. According to Shopper publisher Sandra Clark, however, things haven’t really changed: “We’re an independent entity of Scripps and have limited contact with the News Sentinel , besides printing there.” Fair enough. Other local media shifts of marginal mention include Renee Hamby’s new position at the helm of the tabloid Knoxville Journal—the final straw in a divorce settlement with her husband, Phil. And now joining us in the 21st century is East Tennessee’s only bilingual newspaper, Mundo Hispano, which launched an online edition.

 

Goody’s Sold, Sort Of Back in October, a single share of Goody’s Family Clothing, Inc., could be had for less than the price of a generic-brand mock turtleneck: eight bucks. At least that’s the offer the Knoxville-based corporation accepted from an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners—just before Prentice-GMM came in with a competing offer of $9.60 per share. Goody’s sent Sun Capital packing with an apology and a termination fee, but not before royally pissing off its own shareholders. They claimed that, in initially settling for a measly $8 per share, Goody’s wasn’t acting in their best interest. So they sued that cheap bastard of a corporation, dammit, and earlier in December a Knox County judge ruled that both Goody’s and its pending buyers, Prentice Capital Management and GMM Capital, must set aside $1 million in the event that they must pay the shareholders’ legal bills. At press time, like any good soap opera, the drama still has not been resolved.

 

Revolt of the “Clear Skies” Some took it as a sign from God when, upon President George W. Bush’s arrival at Tyson McGhee Airport to give an Earth Day address at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the skies opened up and it began to rain. In fact, to say that it rained would be an understatement. It poured, as though some saint above had forgotten to turn off the faucet of Heaven’s bathtub, and the water was now overflowing in a great, ironic flood meant to wash Mr. Bush’s presence out of the most polluted national park in the nation. The event was cancelled, devastating many excited schoolchildren but possibly inspiring several protesters to consider the merits of born-again Christianity.

 

Big Coal vs. Stubborn Environmentalists National Coal Corp. couldn’t have known the can of worms it was opening with its purchase of mineral rights and permits to 7,000 acres, including Zeb Mountain, in East Tennessee earlier this year. Local environmentalists, most notably Katuah Earth First!, leapt to the mountain’s defense, arguing that mountaintop removal destroys landscapes, pollutes streams and disturbs wildlife habitats. In KEF tradition, it illustrated its argument with direct action; also in KEF tradition, after participating in such activities as blockading the entrance to Zeb Mountain and interrupting a NCC shareholders’ meeting, several members were arrested.

 

We Won! (Cough) When it comes to air pollution, we’re No. 1. Well, at least in the top 10—in multiple categories. In April, for example, six of TVA’s coal plants appeared on a list of America’s 50 dirtiest power plants (among 359 plants nationwide) based on different pollutants measured in 2004 by the EPA. Those in Johnsonville and Kingston earned special recognition for producing twice as much in sulfur pollutants as the average among all U.S. coal plants. Guess that explains TVA’s introduction of a $6 billion program to curb air pollution. And then there were the results of an annual research project by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, which ranked Chattanooga No. 3, Johnson City No. 5 and Knoxville No. 11 in a list of most challenging cities for people with spring allergies. Oh, and of note to our Loudon readers, in May your county was ranked the worst in Tennessee for all cancers in a health assessment by the Tennessee Department of Health.

 

Cup-A-Joe Closings Cup-a-Woe’s more like it. In March, Joe Smith kissed his coffee mug goodbye and turned the lock on his only remaining Cup-a-Joe location. Three months earlier, his shop on The Strip also closed. In the nearly 10 years since the Cup-a-Joes sold their first cappuccino, they’d come to serve as twin coffee community centers, giving people a place to read, to think, to chat, to smoke cigarettes and hear music. Smith blames the Old City shop’s demise on disquieting area construction and a landlord’s decision to ban smoking indoors. As for the Cumberland Avenue location, The Sunspot bought it so that it could knock down a wall for a needed expansion. Still, Smith swears he’s not done with coffee in this town. He continues to give Knoxvillians a buzz at The Half Barrel, on the Strip, and hopes to one day have a full time barista set up in a corner of the bar.

 

Celebrity Sightings It was an exhilarating year for those of us sick enough to stalk our visiting celebrities. In the Hilton Hotel, we caught a lithe Kate Hudson shooting a breezy game of pool with husband Chris Robinson, in town for an April gig with the recently reunited Black Crowes. A few months later we were stunned when Hudson announced on David Letterman that Knoxville didn’t rate high among her favorite cities while on tour. Metro Pulse -ians recoiled and shot a bunch of indignant editorials into the world—none of which she probably ever read.

In July, we spotted a radiant, pre-breakup Jessica Simpson (sans Nick Lachey) at the Knoxville premiere of The Dukes of Hazzard. Oh, and that Johnny Knoxville guy was there too, as was American Pie cutie Sean William Scott.

Both The Kings of Leon and Ryan Adams were spotted, after their respective Tennessee Theatre shows, at Gay Street’s poshest watering hole—Sapphire, where Adams was rumored to have mooned Nama owner Gregg White. Speaking of Nama, in September Jack Johnson and his wife dined at the downtown sushi spot and reportedly raved about Knoxville and the establishment. And a whole host of famous folks chewed the cud at Tomato Head: Kate Hudson, Chris Robinson, Nickel Creek’s Chris Thile, comedian and author David Sedaris, indie rock band Rilo Kiley, performance artist Laurie Anderson, and cracked-out actor/wannabe musician Jared Leto, among others.

 

JFG Moving The JFG coffee roasting plant, located on Jackson Avenue in the Old City since 1927, announced plans to relocate to a $12 million, 33,000-foot expansion of their plant on Mynatt Avenue, near Sutherland. “Our equipment downtown is 70 years old and we’re just moving to a state-of-the-art type operation as opposed to what we have right now on Jackson Avenue,” says Plant Manager Rich Schmader, who anticipates that the new plant will increase JFG’s productivity by 25 percent. Schmader expects to hire 16 new employees in the coming year.

After Hurricane Katrina, JFG hired 50 temporary employees to handle the dramatic increase in business while taking over some manufacturing duties from its New Orleans plant. Owned by Reily Foods, headquartered in New Orleans, JFG’s Knoxville location was provisional home to many Reily Food employees this past fall. At this point, most employees have returned to their jobs in New Orleans.

 

Censorship at Oak Ridge In late November, Oak Ridge High School made national news after Principal Becky Ervin retracted 1800 copies of its school newspaper, The Oak Leaf, because of objections to an article on birth control methods. Written by student Krystal Meyers, content deemed inappropriate included, “If you get a pregnancy test done and you find out you are pregnant, you can make sure that the parents do not know” and another segment that lists withdrawal as a birth control method with 24 percent failure rate. Another spread displaying photos of students’ tattoos and piercings was also removed from the paper before it was reprinted.

Superintendent Tom Bailey told the News Sentinel that the birth control article needed better editing. He also said that The Oak Leaf is not a public forum but a part of school curriculum, and they have a right to censor it.

The Society of Professional Journalists strongly disagreed with this, releasing a statement that read in part: “This is an example—a bad example—of school officials censoring news content simply because they disagree with it.”

 

Hank Days There once was a singer named Hank Known for his writing and lank Who was just passing through When we bid him adieu And now we’re tellin’ him thanks.

The 2nd annual Hank Days festival celebrated music of Hank Williams Sr., whose life was tragically ended too soon after an evening in Knoxville. The proceeds from the Hank Days festival benefited the Terry Hill Memorial Fund, honoring another life gone prematurely. Old Hank would’ve surely appreciated the jambalaya cook-off in his memory and could’ve maybe lost those lonesome blues with a turn in the speed-dating round. There’s no question that Hank and Terry both would’ve appreciated the music and musicians who took part in the celebration.

 

Fort Sanders Developments In her 1995 hit “This Used to be My Playground,” Madonna sagely crooned, “We were foolish then/ We would never tire/ And that little fire is still alive in me/ It will never go away/ Can’t say goodbye to yesterday.” Though we may not live there anymore, many Knoxvillians hold near and dear their memories of living in Fort Sanders, that bastion of “fetid, neglected chopped-up houses of a historic neighborhood,” in the decades-old, but still applicable words of Jack Rentfro. We remember the keg parties, the littered streets, the run-down but stately old houses, some still standing from the days when Agee lived there. Over the many years of housing artists, musicians, writers and floods of students, those streets have inspired a well-spring of music and poetry, not to mention heaps of smarmy love letters and other rubbish written under the influence of who knows what. 

This year, the Fort has seen lots of renovation as well as two significant new developments. Whether you look at it as a safe new housing complex for students or an eyesore of modernity amidst a historic neighborhood, the massive Knoxville Place is impossible to ignore. Contracted by UT Foundation, a body which funnels gift money into needed school projects, the shiny new 12-story complex houses about 742 students.

Just up the incline from Knoxville Place, a more organic development also went in this year, the long-anticipated James Agee Park, a small but serene plot on the corner of Highland and James Agee. Whether you live in the Fort or you’ve moved away, the shady spot is a good place to sit on the grass and read or think. At times, the Fort in its entirety seems the perfect place for reflection. We may be far too old, but it’s sometimes still tempting to revisit our playground and snoop around for parties on the weekends, ponder familiar cracks in sidewalks, or stare up at old lovers’ windows, now occupied by someone else.

 

Sugar for Sweet William City Mayor Bill Haslam cemented his reputation as an advocate of redevelopment for the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and made more inroads into city-county cooperation with his genial, easy-going style. Haslam’s advocacy of a pending plan for redoing the South Knoxville Waterfront came to the fore, and the mayor’s Teflon coating thickened throughout the year as the media seemed unable to find any chinks in his political armor or ulterior motives behind his ever-present smile.

 

The Wheels Stayed On County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, whose wheel tax and accompanying ambitions nearly derailed his administration, came back strong, under a cloak of mostly behind-the-scenes maneuvering early in the year, continuing his programs for education, senior citizens and veterans. Positioning himself for re-election next fall, he’s already raised a campaign war chest of more than $300,000. The new West Knox High School that he championed in the Hardin Valley was all set to go until questions of its scope and amenities were raised by Hurricane Katrina’s ghastly effect on the price of building materials, and the $40 million school was faced with a $54 million inflated cost estimate.

 

UT is His Oyster Bruce Pearl, the Vols newest basketball coach, got off to a rousing start with victories over a string of early opponents, including the road spanking his boys handed then-6th-ranked Texas. The tough-minded strategist with the run-and-gun penchant had set his team up for a run at SEC respectability and a possible NCAA tournament appearance as he took the Vols to perennial Big 12 power Oklahoma State. We forget the score down there, but we know the Vols outlook could hardly be better under a first-year coach who has won everywhere he’s been.

 

Reaching Ever Higher Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols end the year at the top of the rankings once more. With such game breakers as hot-shooting guard Shanna Zolman and the versatile Ms. Inside-or-Outside Candace Parker and a supporting cast that looks like a recruiting dream, the outlook for another national title never seemed so good. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame isn’t in Knoxville by accident.

 

Hearts Still Throb in Peyton’s Old Place Peyton Manning, the most popular figure in UT football’s recent history, keeps pointing the Indianapolis Colts toward NFL domination. He continues to keep Knoxville in his own heart and mind, too, buying into the new, slick Cumberland House Hotel across 11th Street from the World’s Fair Park, touting St. Mary’s Hospital and promoting charitable causes all around town as a favorite adopted son.

 

Up Turkey Creek and Paddling Wildly The shopping, dining and entertainment district between the interstates and Farragut has succeeded in putting the “gee” in Mega. It’s in its third phase, sprawling westward like kudzu across the landscape. Its 18-screen cineplex opened this year, along with a plethora of stores, restaurants and hotels, and construction just keeps on keeping on, making it the hottest real estate in the Southeast, according to the big-eyed enthusiasms of Knoxville’s Chamber of Commerce types.

 

IPIX Packs up for Virginia The Oak Ridge-based technocopia, IPIX, skedaddled this past November because of dwindling profits and some bad luck when bidding on potentially-lucrative Department of energy-related contracts. Ever since 1985, back when the tiny company held the moniker “Telerobotics International,” they’d been slugging it out with the fast-paced high-tech conglomerates. The most memorable development was a 360-degree photographic apparatus, utilized by the department of Homeland Security for “security purposes.” Now, after leaving for Reston, Va., the company hopes to regroup and redefine its mission statement.

 

Bass Pro Shops The Redneck Riviera just got a little woodsier. Bass Pro Shops opened one of its ever-popular outdoor stores just outside Sevierville in Kodak, Tenn. Complete with a waterfall, shooting arcade, full-service seafood restaurant, and even a Starbucks, Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World is the Holy Grail for all things al fresco. With the cornucopia of outdoor activities that this area offers, it does seem a good fit. A person could learn how to conserve an endangered wetland, learn how to protect delicate species, learn how to kill the species that flourish, and buy all the tools needed for any of it, all in one 130,000 square foot man-magnet.

 

Farewell, Harold’s Downtown’s disappointments in 2005 were few, but some were hard to take. A year ago, Harold’s Kosher Deli, founded by Harold Shersky in 1948, was still open, with no immediate plans to close. Early in the year, though, the 86-year-old proprietor was injured in a car wreck and turned the business over to epicurean maestro Bruce Bogartz, who confidently announced plans of expanding the menu to include fresh baked goods, redecorating the restaurant, and lengthening the restaurant’s day to include dinner hours.

However, in July, as Harold’s loyal staff—collectively perhaps the longest-tenured restaurant staff downtown—prepared for their annual weeklong vacation, Bogartz fired them all without severance and closed the business. The building’s owner, who had leased it to Harold all these years, sold it to young developer John Craig of Segundo Properties, who found it had significant structural issues. Renovations commenced will require several months. Craig has deliberately left up Harold’s famous ca. 1950 sign, and says he’s entertaining the idea of re-opening a delicatessen on the ground floor.

This time of year, especially, we miss Harold’s special eggnog.

 

Bonnaroo and Vegoose Pollstar has nominated both Bonnaroo and Vegoose for Music Festival of the Year, proving—like we didn’t know already—that Knoxville’s own AC Entertainment, in conjunction with Superfly Productions, knows how to throw one hell of a party. In its fourth year, many of the 90,000 music fans at this year’s Bonnaroo trekked cross-country to catch a plethora of bluegrass, jam and rock bands like Widespread Panic and The Black Crowes. Forty-five thousand made the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the inaugural Vegoose, which debuted Halloween weekend.

 

Return of the Ice Rink Before this year, it was a rare sight to see anyone under 21, much less countless toddlers, swarming around Market Square past dark in the winter. But thanks to several downtown business owners that made a push to bring back an outdoor ice skating rink, we saw a mass influx of little ones in the past month. It’s been 14 years since downtown Knoxville last had a rink installed for the winter, and this year’s reintroduction met with much enthusiasm, if very little grace.

Throughout December, lazy Metro Pulse employees made a habit of wining and pinting at Oodles Wine Bar or Preservation Pub and observing the happy-go-lucky skaters, pausing to high five at the very best busts. There was plenty of room for spills and triple axles, as the previously 30 by 30 foot rink was expanded to 36 by 100 feet. One eyewitness postulates that a particularly frequent skater, a tall, lithe gentleman, was planted by the city to evoke ooh’s and aah’s from onlookers. We think he’s just a showoff.

 

Under the Weather Hurricane Katrina proved how close 750 miles can be. Like many American cities, Knoxville prepared for a much larger influx of Gulf Coast refugees than it actually received. Still, hundreds spent days or weeks at various shelters in town, and at year’s end, some were still around; a few, we hear, have chosen to stay. Which, considering the downriver city was once notorious for sucking away Knoxville’s livelier sorts, is OK with us.

Knoxville’s favorite fish market, the Shrimp Dock, suffered the severe loss of three of its fleet of four shrimp boats in the gulf. Reily Foods, a New Orleans company with Knoxville connections, contemplated moving its headquarters here.

 

UT Football Season After the Vols’ sob story of a season, even devoted fall fans found just cause to fling themselves from the Big Orange bandwagon—preferring the sting of pavement to the embarrassment of a losing team. Coach Philip Fulmer, once everyone’s favorite bus driver, was now seemingly steering his cargo in the direction of a cliff.

One fed-up Vol fan even resorted to selling his fan loyalty on eBay. And Vol fans usually know how to take the critics. We know how to firmly debate football topics ranging from SEC-schedule difficulty to why two quarterbacks are better than one. We don’t, however, know how to survive a losing season, or even worse, a season without a bowl game. After beginning the season ranked No. 3 in the nation, Vol fans were left with nothing to celebrate. That only gave ammunition to those critics who wonder how anyone can pull for the Big Orange. Well, let the deserters jump. Fans have faith that the Vols will rise from the ashes. The athletic department has attempted to make some positive changes with a coaching staff shake-up and, hey, if they can plummet from the ranks as quickly as they did, why can’t they climb it at the same pace? So there, it’s said, the Big Orange will be fine. Vol fans can survive almost anything, but still, one shouldn’t say, “It can’t get any worse.”

 

Yokel Former Knoxvillian Kevin Nicely, North Carolina-born Skillet Davidson, and Maryville’s own Storm Taylor decided to take the South by, well, storm and find those things that make the South and Southerners entertaining. Always blurring the line between mockery and appreciation, cable TV Turner South’s “Yokel” featured the moonshine-drenched, mud-covered, fun-loving, car-crashing South that we know and love. Stemming from his travels with longtime friend and “Jackass,” Johnny Knoxville, “Yokel” was Taylor’s shot back at reality shows that don’t feature real people or real reality. What the “Yokel” boys found was a fun way to celebrate, and mildly ridicule, redneck culture. Knoxvillians can rest assured, though, when the “Yokel” team sets out to highlight their “Yokel” finds, they tend to leave town before they start the humiliating!

 

WDVX Blue Plate Special Though they officially moved from a modest trailer/studio in Clinton to their swanky downtown digs in June of 2004, WDVX really hit the big time this year with their Blue Plate Special, a live midday radio broadcast that attracted downtown business people, students, all kinds of folks. Sharing the gleaming beige building on the corner of Summit Hill and Gay Street with the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp., WDVX lassoed in some top-notch performers to grace the small stage, which is surrounded by a semi-circle of chairs and adjacent coffee shop and gift store peddling Knoxville paraphernalia from water bottles to local coffee.

Some shows in particular packed the house. Racked with the frailty of old age, folk troubador Michael Hurley didn’t miss a beat during his poignant performance a few months ago, especially with his beguiling “Tater Song.” Always a highlight were several appearances by the Tarbox Ramblers, the bluesy country outfit that transformed the studio into a jumpin’ haven of head-wagging and toe-tapping. As one rambunctious audience member put it, “This was just an important musical event.” Then there were the chilling visits by the Johnson City trio, The Everybodyfields, whose harmonies of spun gold and evocative lyrics echo to the core of our Southern existence. But that’s just a small sliver of what’s been offered this year at WDVX. Just like the diner you remember from your youth, it’s always worthwhile just to drop by for a luscious taste of whatever’s on the blue plate.

 

Come Out Knoxville OK, so Knoxville, or Tennessee for that matter, or the entire South for that matter, is not known for being cosmopolitan or particularly open-minded. Nonetheless, our city’s LGBT community is tirelessly taking steps to dispel prejudice and injustice on the grounds of sexual orientation. After Knoxville Pride fizzled last year, the city’s LGBT community went under the radar for most of 2004, which marked the first year since 2004 that Knoxville didn’t observe National Pride Week. However, the silence was broken this year when LGBT and human rights organizations came together to celebrate Come Out Knoxville, a weeklong event featuring various musical and cabaret performances and a well-attended parade and rally in Market Square on Oct. 15. Organizers were enthralled to have the support of the mayor’s office, with Haslam’s senior policy director Bill Lyons taking the podium briefly.

Beth Maples-Bays, Bureau Chief of the statewide Out and About Newspaper, says, “I’m so pleased to see the Knoxville LGBT community move forward and become more active and more visible.” Still, some are disheartened that City Council voted 5-4 against adding the language “sexual orientation” to the city’s non-discrimination clause. “We have a challenge before us to ensure that all Knoxvillians have civil rights,” says Maples-Bays. Judging from the narrowly lost vote and the spirited attendance at Come Out Knoxville, our fair city’s on its way to a heightened awareness.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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