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602 S. Gay Street
Knoxville, TN 37902
The Old City is indisputably less active today than it was in the early 1990s. [“The Old City: Left Behind the Renaissance?” by Frank Carlson, Feb. 4, 2010] At the time, Gay Street and Market Square were playing out the vestiges of Knoxville’s 20th Century Downtown as the last gasps of old retail fled west. The Old City was the first effort for downtown redevelopment, and it had the attention of all who cared.
As the neighborhood’s small businesses struggled individually, they finally realized that it was in their best interests to work together, and we made it fly for a decade. An occasional “big player” would come in and demand dominance, only to realize (often too late) that the success of any one business really required joining in the successful promotion of the entire district.
KPD told us repeatedly that the level of crime in our neighborhood didn’t justify a regular foot patrol, but The Old City Neighborhood Association continually lobbied and eventually got a beat cop to show the badge. This made a great deal of difference. Some of us thought a special corps of a few officers should be designated for visitor locations to enhance the appearance of safety, perhaps paid for by entertainment tax funds.
Eventually, as retail began to develop in the more natural shopping area of Market Square, larger restaurants came into The Old City and it became more of a club district. The unity of the original entrepreneurs dissipated as management changed, but the energy incubated in the old Jackson and Central Warehouse District moved to Market Square and has found fertile ground. The hands-on attitude of the Haslam administration benefitted these efforts.
The development now occurring in The Old City seems more stable than the shaky businesses started by the dreamers in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of the apparently solid development of the Market Square District.
As we learned in The Old City, all of downtown benefits from the success of each district, and the legacy of The Old City is now coming back around to help the old neighborhood.
Old City Neighborhood Association, 1987-1995