The Knoxville Plan: Did We Really Have One?

Tom Eblen, columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, headlines his July 6 column: “Knoxville had a plan to revitalize its downtown.” Actually, it had several. Most of them were pretty dumb and got tossed. But somehow, after decades of apathy and inaction, people got interested in downtown again—spurring development and activity. The fascinating thing is that most observers have different takes on how all that happened and who deserves the most credit. Was it daring business owners? Bold bankers? Young artists? Wise government officials? Or pure synchronicity among all these parties? Well, according to Eblen—an AP reporter who lived in Knoxville in the early ’80s—it was the 1982 World’s Fair. It “began a transformation that has made Knoxville’s city center the kind of happening place downtown Lexington aspires to be.” Well, maybe—except there wasn’t much momentum after the fair ended, especially with some notable financial meltdowns. Nevertheless, Eblen notes that “One big factor in downtown Knoxville’s revitalization has been historic preservation and adaptive reuse of old buildings, such as the old JFG Coffee plant and Sterchi furniture company, which are now loft apartments.” Indeed, having residents who want to live in cool, old buildings has been key to the downtown resurgence—but why did they want to move here just in the past 10 years? Uhhh...

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