Pains me to say it, but there was a little truth in the Wamp campaign’s recent observation that downtown Knoxville’s redevelopment is “limited”—although probably not in the way that Wamp’s handlers meant. Their candidate couldn’t really put it in words—caught rather infamously on tape telling a reporter he didn’t “know what limited means”—but I suspect the slight was based on the fact that Chattanooga has more shiny new tourist traps than Knoxville.
I’m sorry, but attractions, even successful ones like downtown Knoxville’s Regal Cinema or Chattanooga’s aquarium, can’t revitalize a city on their own. Sure, tourists will put cash in the till, but cater to them too much and the costs can easily outweigh the benefits (not that seasonal tourist jobs typically pay benefits...). And even a fancy new theater or square full of shops will have less of an impact if, come closing time, all the patrons climb in their cars and drive home to some suburb outside the city limits.
Downtowns don’t stand alone. And a downtown chock full of fancy restaurants but surrounded by slums its patrons are afraid to enter isn’t really a downtown at all. It’s a Potemkin village.
What’s remarkable about Chattanooga’s downtown revival isn’t so much what the city has accomplished downtown, it’s how well they’ve managed to leverage that into improvements elsewhere in Chattanooga’s center city—everywhere from Fort Wood and St. Elmo to the North Shore and the South Side. Knoxville obviously has quite a few thriving historic neighborhoods around downtown, but it’s only recently that the local leadership has really started thinking of them as both integral to and a continuation of downtown redevelopment (and Haslam’s administration deserves a fair amount of credit on that front).
But here’s the big secret, one the Wamp campaign certainly won’t tell you: Chattanooga’s redevelopment is rather limited, too. They got an earlier start, but they still have a long way to go. A few ribbon cuttings and some restored homes with Volvos in the driveways are only a start.
They can also be a very important start, though. Bringing middle-income homeowners back into the center city not only brings people, it also brings capital. And a fair amount of it gets plowed into improving the neighborhoods around them. Consider this place in Oakwood/Lincoln Park. Not only does this classic Craftsman bungalow on a corner lot have hardwood floors and a beautiful fireplace with built-ins all around, it also has all new windows, HVAC and wiring, even a new kitchen. Oh, and there’s also an unfinished full basement and a detached garage.
The only downside I can see is the “limited” downtown that it’s minutes away from (but the funky new “destination” of Downtown North is even closer). m
400 E. Burwell Avenue
1,500 sq. ft. (approx)
3 bdrm/2 bath
John Bradley, owner: