insights (2005-52)

It Was a Good Year, if Not a Great One

The approaching end of 2005 leaves Knoxville with a mostly favorable, if mixed, report card for the year. The mood of the community improved markedly, as the political and governmental picture became more amenable to city-county cooperation, and both the city’s core and its suburbs enjoyed growth and a general sprucing up of both the housing and commercial appearances of their neighborhoods.

That the expectations of progressive elements of the community always seem to fall a bit short of fulfillment shouldn’t be taken as a complete negative. The efforts are there, and the results seem to be coming along on most fronts.

There were triumphs to be savored and failures to be reckoned with but, when all averaged out, it was a pretty good year for the community as a whole. A B-minus at worst, a B-plus at best.

The A grades:

Unemployment in the Knoxville area remained low.

Downtown redevelopment reached a fever pitch, with residential and retail growth leading the way.

Federal transportation legislation and appropriation measures provided a windfall of funding for the city’s transportation center and expansion of its greenway system for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Sidewalk paving and repaving projects got underway.

A major retail outlet, Mast General Store, committed to locating in the downtown area.

Regal Cinemas got started on a multi-screen movie house, also on Gay Street.

The beautifully renovated Tennessee Theatre reopened as the great entertainment palace it was meant to be, and the Bijou Theatre got the attention it has long deserved and a mayoral promise to see it succeed.

Cleaner motor fuel in the form of biodiesel came into broad use in the city’s vehicle fleet as well as in KAT buses and trolleys.

KAT kept up its proud pace of providing exemplary service, given the limitations of emphasis on public transit in the overall scheme of the community transportation. During the weeks when gasoline prices soared, KAT’s dependability was much appreciated by many unaccustomed to riding the bus. 

The University of Tennessee’s partnership in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory was renewed and continued to show great promise in scientific research.

The city’s ambitious initiative to develop the south side of the river, a part of town whose relative neglect has never been more apparent than it has been during downtown’s boom, seems sincere, and promising. The planners’ openness to public opinion bodes well for the project’s success.

The B grades:

The economy held steady.

Some job growth was heralded outside the service industry, as local firms expanded.

The retail and restaurant industries flourished in their own right, with more openings than closings.

The governments of Knoxville and Knox County came through without drastic cuts in services or draconian tax increases, despite stretched budgets.

Northshore Town Center, a suburban new-urbanist project unusual for the area, broke ground. Residential response has been enthusiastic, but so far retail has been slower to commit, as the once-promised movie theater there seems to be fading from the plans.

Turkey Creek’s growth, now including a major cinema complex, provided a grand shopping/dining/entertainment option for the region.

The C grades:

The city acknowledged Gay Pride Week, but the city’s mayor backpedaled on the issue. After agreeing to speak to the assembled GLBT group, he sent an aide in his stead.

Industries made more consistent and effective efforts to clean up their discharges of pollutants into the air and water, but much more work is needed in that realm.

The D grades:

No full-service grocery store showed up to serve residents on the downtown scene.

The ever-lagging and confounding complexity of highway construction and reconstruction kept traffic headaches painful and consistent, even at off hours, and in some cases pinched neighborhoods and caused the destruction of some worthy businesses.

The F grades:

The community’s air quality remained among the worst in the country in terms of particulates and ozone and the estimated threat of toxic releases.

The UT Volunteers football team, touted as a great generator of economic activity, went by the board, missing out on even a lesser bowl opportunity.

The I-275 Business Park (Coster Shops) lay mostly idle, with no takers for much of its well-situated land and no new jobs on its site.

Problems we have, serious problems: But overall, things seem to be looking up for this complicated old city. Downtown development, probably the most conspicuous accomplishment of 2005, will be good for everybody in the long term, as more high-price property re-enters the tax rolls, as the city taxpayers recapture part of the state taxes collected downtown, and as downtown residential development forestalls economically and environmentally expensive sprawl.

We’re not sure it’ll all work out as advertised. But we get the impression that some who might once have expected to live somewhere else someday could well have started thinking, in 2005, that they may stick around, just to see what will happen.

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

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