citybeat (2006-07)

Thank God for Northeast Knoxville

Where shiny goods and treetops co-exist, sort of

On the Make

South College adds a stunning new building

Wednesday, Feb. 8

Thank God for Northeast Knoxville

Park plans were unveiled last Tuesday during a public meeting at Central High School, attended by a small but rapt audience. Optimism was rampant, bolstered by Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale’s allocation of $2 million to the construction project. Grant Rosenberg, head of the park’s steering committee, enthused, “It’s going to be the nicest park in Knox County when it’s done.” Senior Director of Parks and Recreation Doug Bataille compared the future green space to a “miniature version of Central Park.” 

A slideshow of ideas culled from parks around the world—giant chessboards, boulder-style playground equipment, and gurgling water features—was shown. Representatives from design firm Bullock-Smith Partners and landscape architecture firm Ross/Fowler (World’s Fair Park, Volunteer Landing, Market Square, Krutch Park, others) outlined solid objectives. Members of the Public Building Authority nodded their heads in approval.

Meriting less discussion was the significantly larger retail center going up next door, which will contain a 216,900-square-foot Target, a couple of comparably sized Bed Bath & Beyond-type stores (Target sold the remainder of its land parcel to Knoxville Levcal LLC, a Houston-based shopping center developer, whose plans are forthcoming), and two to three restaurants. The retail center and the park will have separate parking lots—Target’s being located directly off Washington Pike and the park’s being further in on New Harvest Road—but they’ll be connected by road and sidewalk.

“They’re going to complement each other immensely,” says Rosenberg, echoing his committee’s hope for crossover between shoppers and park users. Dispelling notions of a strip-mall eyesore, he notes that the retail center will adhere to guidelines recommended in a 2004 Metropolitan Planning Commission reuse study of the site, addressing issues such as signage, zoning, pedestrian-friendliness and preferred and prohibited usages.

But is the idea of corporate sensitivity toward Knoxville’s aesthetic and environmental concerns too idealistic to be real? Judging from the park’s immediate surroundings, a rapidly developing constellation of retail and dining establishments extending outward from Knoxville Center Mall, maybe not.

A Wal-Mart on the east side of the mall that’s expanding into a Super Wal-Mart, for instance, was surprisingly conscientious in its recent effort to reroute Love’s Creek, which fell in the path of its construction. In addition, it volunteered to build a stretch of greenway that the new park’s planners hope to eventually link with their own. While the implications of a greenway connecting a Wal-Mart with a Target are questionable, the idea is admittedly a bright spot in what might otherwise develop into a ho-hum sea of asphalt, à la Kingston Pike.

Lisa Starbuck, a member of the park’s planning commission and president of the Northeast Knox Preservation Association, explains, “Certainly that’s a concern—we don’t want to become the new West Knoxville—but I think that maybe, just maybe, there’s been some lessons learned, and hopefully the administration will realize that that’s not the most desirable way to have growth. Planned growth makes more sense.”

Community involvement in the development process is a wise approach, as well. County Commissioner Madeline Rogero, who was present at the meeting, commended the commission for its attention to low-impact development and emphasis on preserving the integrity of the wooded ridge the park backs up to, though she suggested some revisions to its parking lot layout. Others in attendance took advantage of public comment forms and contributed to discussions of what the park should be named—“Washington Greenway Park,” “Grassy Valley Park,” “New Harvest Park” and “Simpson Farm Park” were among the planning commission’s suggestions. Those not present at the meeting are encouraged to send comments to namethepark@knoxcounty.org .

One or two more public meetings will be held before the plan is finalized. Contractor selection will take place during spring 2006, with construction to begin in the summer. The park is expected to open in the late spring or summer 2007.

On the Make

The 56,000 square-foot neo-Georgian structure, visible from both I-40 and I-640-75 off Middlebrook Pike, is expected to open in April, according to South College President Steve South, who says the school’s total investment in the headquarters/classroom/laboratory complex will exceed $10 million. “Substantially,” says South, who has been the driving force behind the school’s growth from a two-year business college to a four-year college with a new emphasis on health courses of education.

When he bought the school in 1989 he became heir to the dusty remnants of Knoxville Business College, already more than 100 years old and perhaps best known for its former occupancy of the “Keyhole Building,” now condominium residences on Church Avenue downtown. At the time South bought it, the college was languoring in a building on North Fifth Avenue, which is now for sale.

The son of a college president, whose brother is also a college president, South began rebuilding the college’s reputation, adding programs and securing new faculty.

From a base that included about 200 students, the school has grown to about 650 students this term, and will have room for about 700 once the currently leased location in Downtown West is closed down and the new building is occupied.

A second campus in the former Watson’s department store headquarters at Parkside Drive and Hayfield Road farther west will remain open, with business, accounting, computer science and elementary-education courses taught there. Courses in the allied health fields, including nursing, radiography and physical therapy, will be taught in the new building, along with paralegal studies.

The school began offering baccalaureate programs in 2002, and now boasts five such degrees in business administration, elementary ed., nursing, health sciences, and legal studies. Associates degrees are awarded in those and a few other fields.

Tuition, says Kimberly Hall, the college’s executive vice president, is higher than UT or the state’s community colleges, but lower “by a few hundred dollars” than the private colleges in the area. It ranges from $3,700 to $4,200 per quarter for a full course load, depending on the field of study, and Hall says 80 percent of the students in the school’s day and evening divisions are on some kind of financial aid, with most of those including college loans. South says the number of lottery scholars increased this year, but those remain in a minority. His college, he says, is fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the region’s accrediting group.

Members of the board of trustees include retired UT President Joe Johnson, News Sentinel Publisher Bruce Hartmann, and St. Mary’s Health System President Deborah London, along with other distinguished Knoxvillians.

“Our programs and our staff and faculty” are the reasons most students give for choosing South College, Hall says. She says there are now more students in baccalaureate than associates degree programs, and a year-round student can earn a bachelor’s in three years. The faculty/staff size now exceeds 100 people, South says.

Most of the students hail from Knox and Blount Counties, Hall says, but some reside in other communities as far away as Newport or Athens. “We have students who have transferred from Pellissippi or Roane State, from Walters State or Cleveland State, where they’ve completed their basic humanities courses, and we have some who transfer back and forth.”

The new building, with its imposing lighted dome and its pillared entries and halls, represents the college’s most ambitious single step since becoming a four-year school. Among its amenities are 4,500 square feet of library space and a student center. Landscaping on the site includes more than 160 trees and 1,000 shrubs, lending a park-like air to the campus grounds.

Steve South grew up on a junior-college campus. His father, John South Jr., is president of South College Asheville, formerly Cecils College, and Steve’s brother, John III, is president of South University, with campuses in Savannah, where Steve trained in every aspect of college administration following his graduation from Western Carolina U., and in Palm Beach, Fla., Montgomery, Ala., and Columbia,

None of the three school systems are affiliated, except by family, says Steve South, but they share experiences and advice with one another. “It’s in the blood,” says the forty-ish, stylishly dressed South, who says he also has a sister who is retired from teaching. He says the growth curve that each of the South family schools has shown in recent years is largely attributable to their adaptability to demand for more educational opportunities in the health fields as the baby-boomer generation has aged and put stress on the health-care system.

Pharmacy, he says, is another of the health-related fields he is hoping to add to the South College curriculum. But that, he says, is a year or more away.

SEVEN DAYS

Wednesday, Feb. 8

Thursday, Feb. 9

Friday, Feb. 10

Saturday, Feb. 11

Sunday, Feb. 12

Monday, Feb. 13

Tuesday, Feb. 14

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