citybeat (2007-46)

Grand Plans

City Beat

South Waterfront development concepts are finally unveiled, but lack concrete next steps

The design renderings unveiled at last Tuesday nightâ’s public meeting on Knoxvilleâ’s plans for the South Waterfront development certainly look impressive. They show a remarkable upgrade on the south side of the Tennessee River between the Henley Street Bridge and James White Parkway overpassâ"a landscaped terrace down to a walkway moored in the river in front of Baptist Hospital and an extension of Lincoln Street from the intersection of Sevier and Island Home Avenues to join with a newly built River Road that will run roughly parallel to Sevier Avenue.

The real question now, after the public has had a chance to see what the city and its consultants have come up with over the past few months, is whether any of these ambitious plans will ever be put into place.

â“If weâ’re going to get something done, this is the first step,â” says Dave Hill, the cityâ’s director of South Waterfront development. â“The whole idea is not to put all our eggs in one basket. Weâ’ve selected projects that we can possibly fund for implementation.... The idea is that some [projects] may have to wait a little longer and others may be ready to go fairly quickly.â”

The city has $10.2 million in its current budget for riverfront improvements, plus a projected $6 million in federal funding over the next four years. The city has also applied for a $3 million state grant for the riverfront walkway in front of Baptist Hospital. But Hill has said property acquisition and preparation alone for the River Road and walkway may run to $10 million. Mayor Bill Haslam has said all along that the cityâ’s participation in South Waterfront development will depend on significant private investment. A tax-increment financing (TIF) district has been established along a three-mile stretch of the riverfront, and the city expects the new Cityview condominium development east of Chapman Highway to provide nearly $3 million in TIF revenue for street improvements and a riverside walkway there. But thereâ’s no way to tell yet how much TIF money a planned 140-unit condo development near the Lincoln Road extension might provide.

â“One of the questions is, what do we do with the money thatâ’s currently authorized?â” Hill says. â“The other is what subsequent budget requests in the next four or five years will be.â”

The announcement of Tuesdayâ’s meeting spurred considerable public interest, since it was the first sign of noticeable progress on the project since approval of a form-based code for the area by City Council in January. (Unlike traditional zoning, form-based codes regulate architectural and design features rather than building use, allowing mixes of commercial, office, residential, and even some industrial space.)

â“The public process, up through the form-based codes approval, has been exemplary,â” says Rachel Craig, an Island Home resident who served on the oversight committee for the initial stages of South Waterfront planning. â“Iâ’ve frankly never seen a public process as well-coordinated as this one was in Knoxville before.â”

Craig acknowledges, however, that the lack of visible progress in recent months has been a source of concern in the community. But thereâ’s still a lot of confidence about the project among local business owners.

â“I think itâ’s going to happen,â” says Gary Underwood, one of the owners of the building that houses Underdogs, a new bar on Island Home Avenue just half a mile away from the proposed connection of the River Road and the Lincoln Street extension. â“I donâ’t know exactly how long, but I think itâ’s going to happen. Everybody wants to be near the water.â” â" Matthew Everett

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