Sounds Great: The Lakeshore Park Master Plan Offers Little to Object to, but Awaits Funding

Monday evening at Deane Hill Recreation Center, the city rolled out a blue-sky master plan for Lakeshore Park. Considering it's almost 200 acres at the high-profile corner of Lyons View and Northshore, there was a good deal of interest, even on a weekday evening in West Knoxville shopping traffic. More than 100 people, including at least five City Councilmembers, showed up to witness a presentation hosted by city Parks and Recreation Director Joe Walsh. Mayor Madeline Rogero spoke briefly. Ashley Shomaker, president of the market-research firm U30 Group, whose offices are located down the street from the park, described polling 540 park users, and presented their views—that most folks like what's there now, want more of the same, but with better river views and access.

Recent years have seen earnest proposals for a wide variety of probably mutually exclusive uses for the former mental institution, from extensive botanical gardens to homeless shelters to a BMX dirt-racing track. The plan as proposed seems to aim for the broad middle, and at Monday night's meeting, there were few complaints.

Attorney Tom McAdams, a neighbor who has long been a promoter of the park development, recently as secretary-treasurer of Lakeshore Park, Inc., a non-profit that advocates and raises funds for the park project, says the plan provides "most of the things that most of the people want." McAdams has a particular interest in preserving some of the old mental institution's most valuable architecture, especially the castellated 1884 administration building, which has a lot of well-preserved interior detail. Exactly how the buildings will be used in the long run has yet to be determined, but the much-beloved chapel, a freestanding 1950s building long praised for its woody interior design, might be used for weddings or community meetings. Maybe surprising even to preservationists is the old steam plant, unused for more than 30 years, which McAdams says is a Baumann & Baumann design with especially unusual brickwork. They'll also keep the engineering building near Northshore in the park's southwestern corner. But most of the old institutional buildings will be torn down, at city expense and probably soon, depending on how much asbestos and other hazardous materials they have to deal with.

The removal of buildings will allow for several more fields, including three soccer fields and three multi-purpose fields.

Landscape architect Mike Fowler, of Ross/Fowler, unveiled a map of ball fields, parking lots, curving drives, and greenspace, with just a few new features, like a 300-seat amphitheater on the north end of the site, a shed for a farmers' market, and a canoe launch at the south end, in the Fourth Creek embayment. River access is a priority in the plan, but not a simple problem to solve because the shore's guarded by a rocky dike, which will stay. They'll take down the fence, though, and eventually build a walkway over to the dike, along a riverwalk of almost half a mile. One surprise is that the trails will almost quadruple in total length, from the current 2.25 mile circuit to an eight-mile network of trails for various lengths and steepnesses.

Attendees spoke with earnest excitement, even though everyone who spoke made it clear this was no done deal. It's all pending funding, and most of the funding, at least in the current political climate, will have to be from as-yet-unidentified private sources. To be completed, the plan may be upwards of $60 million, and the city's prepared to cover less than 10 percent of that, about $5.5 million, most of which will be devoted to the big looming job of demolishing institutional buildings to make way for more park.

The plan got rounds of applause, and public comments were few. There were no lines at the microphone, as there were at the bigger meeting six months ago. One man, representing a lacrosse group, made a plea for one artificial-turf field that could be used regardless of weather. The discussion leaders acknowledged it was a possibility.

The sharpest criticism came from Dr. Gene Overholt, the prominent physician, who was there representing nine households to the northeast. He praised the plan in general, but expressed concern about security in the park, and about light and noise emanating from the park's new uses. Concerts, he said, would be "highly disruptive." Joe Walsh responded, "We'll try to be good neighbors," emphasizing the amphitheater holds only 300, not enough for much of a sensation.

But it's all speculative at this point. No one's ready to suggest Lakeshore will be done in 10, or 20 years, or if it will ever be finished at all.

The park's already seeing some improvements. The Hank Rappe Playground, a memorial project named for a 3-year-old T-baller who died suddenly, seems to be on its way to reality. It will be a universally accessible playground, with facilities for special-needs kids. The fence by the river will come down.

Beyond that, McAdams says, frankly, "What happens next is nothing." The park will remain open as a city park with fields and trails, just fewer and fewer buildings, as promoters seek funding in months and years to come.

The plan's available for close examination at cityofknoxville.org/lakeshore.

"If you see something you would like to pay for and build," McAdams said, "by all means, let us know."