cover_story (2006-52)

There were moments in 2006 when it seemed appropriate to encircle the whole of Knoxville with yellow caution tape. It would be a kind of day-glo border, warning visitors to consider alternate routes uncluttered by orange construction barrels and bumper-to-bumper traffic. The signs would read “City Under Construction,” and when asked about the construction’s tenure, residents would shrug their shoulders in defeat. No end in sight, they would respond, their voices barely audible over a chorus of frustrated car horns and jackhammers and bulldozer grunts.

But there were also moments during the year, albeit occurring with less frequency, in which it seemed that all the chaos might actually be accomplishing something important. A business we’ve been hearing about for months finally opens. A building that’s been blighted for years is finally renovated. An Interstate we’ve been cursing since the dawn of time is finally widened. Tangible changes are actually taking place.

Take Me to the River

Thorny Issue

Some taxpayers argue that that’s an awfully big wad of cash to toss into what may be, both literally and figuratively, a sinkhole.

Bijou Déjà Vu

Following a hunch that was shared by many observers, AC emphasized more live music than drama in its programming, and the 1909 vaudeville house on Gay Street, legendary for its acoustics, probably warmed more seats in its first seven months reopened than it has in most full years since its last renovation. Shows by internationally known musicians like Richard Thompson, Jamie Cullum, Aimee Mann, and many others saw packed houses. Classical-music concerts and even some opera seemed to fare well, too. Whether AC’s magic will be enough to save the Bijou in the long term was unclear at year’s end. Can a metro area of close to a million keep a century-old vaudeville house, with 750 seats, perfect acoustics, and a steady stream of well-known entertainment, open? If we can’t, it’s our dumb fault.

Movie Moves

Seeing Green

Construction began on the first Second Creek Greenway, which will connect Volunteer Landing to World’s Fair Park. And most spectacularly of all—though it probably won’t be finished until ‘08—construction began on a secure walking and biking bridge that will connect the Vol Landing and Third Creek greenways to the south side of the Tennessee River. The 12-foot-wide walkway, cantilevered onto the east side of the Buck Karnes (Alcoa Highway) Bridge, to be completed with a loopy descent to the shore on the other side, will be Phase One of the long-anticipated Knox-Blount Greenway, which will someday provide secure passage by bicycle to the Maryville and the Smokies.

The city also completed almost two miles of greenway between Northwest Middle School and Victor Ashe Park.

Transit Center In Transit

Unequal Rights Amendment

Never Liked That Bridge, Anyway

Live in Fourth and Gill?

Making Liquor Quicker

City Council voted to allow an exception for a liquor store run by some young downtown residents and business owners. At year’s end, construction had begun in a business space on the 400 block of Gay.

Don’t Bust the Buskers

Kool KAT

Kesler Canned

Sphere of Influence


Last One Out, Turn On the Lights

In September, however, the driver’s license office moved to Five Points, and County Clerk Mike Padgett said he’d decided to move most of the other public services out of the old place. He said he was getting too many complaints from people worried about parking downtown. (Although people don’t seem to be too concerned about parking for the Mast General Store, Tennessee Theatre or Market Square, all of which are located just down the street).

Padgett says he’ll let us keep getting married there, at least.

Gallery Opening

Meanwhile, the large but yet-unrenamed J.C. Penney Building nearby is said to be in process of a long-term residential renovation, but you can’t see it till it’s finished. In the summer, a huge banner, styled like a magazine ad, was unfurled to cover its entire façade.

Fire Sale

“Fire Street” might make some conservative developers’ list of what not to name a new residential development, but David Dewhirst’s project opened in an old industrial building on Jackson Avenue, and most of its 37 new upscale residences were almost instantly sold out and, by mid-year, occupied by about 60 intrepid new residents. Three units, just being completed at year’s end, are still available.

More Room at the Inn

Hurry Up and Wait

Some of them work perfectly. But several of them still seem to doze off once every cycle, still making us wait for 15 or 20 seconds after they hit zero. It may not seem like much, but it’s dependably long.

Waiting for the ‘Center’ Part

But to be true new urbanism, it has to include something to walk to from the houses, that is, commercial retail and office investment, which has been slower to buy into the concept. The maverick South Carolina-based developer Doran had expected to build commercial space in spring of ’06, with downtown-style mixed-use buildings, commercial on ground level, residential above. They didn’t get around to it in ’06, but now they say they expect to begin building commercial buildings and announcing clients early in the new year.

Of course, that’s what they told us a year ago, too. Knoxville businessmen are skeptical of new ideas, and you sometimes have to spot them a few years.

Market Square: Arrested Development

How much McLonger?

Home Improvement

Around the corner, one of the only other historic single-family residences remaining downtown, the 1812 James Park home, which, despite a collapsed wall that some feared would doom the project, appears to be nearing completion of a thorough restoration. The house, built by Knoxville’s second mayor and one of the city’s oldest residences, is nearing completion, reportedly for use as headquarters of the Gulf & Ohio Railroad, a regional freight outfit which also operates the Three Rivers Rambler, down the hill.

Pasture of Destiny

At year’s end, it’s still unclear what’s likely to happen to the property itself. Knoxville’s oldest church is expected to sell it for development.

Artsy-Fartsy No More

In fact, the only thing missing was Executive Director Ed Pasley, who resigned mid-festival after accruing a debt of around $90,000. (Hey, “classy” isn’t cheap.) He was succeeded in October by Robyn Nelson, former executive director of the Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City. We wish her well, and implore her to steer clear of Pigeon Forge between now and April. 

Scottish Pike Goes Upscale

They advertised themselves as “Knoxville’s only luxury riverfront condominiums,” a motto that may not be plausible for long. At least 400 more are planned for the south side alone, including the larger Cityview at Riverwalk, in the works upstream at the old glove-factory site. It seems clear that development is inevitable, with or without the direction of the city’s Southside initiatives to guide it.

Developers Win the Second Battle of Armstrong’s Hill

Film Archives

First Evidence of Metro Pulse’s Influence

Five Points Grocery

Candid Cameras

Same House, New Yard

Hangover of the Year

Historic Zoning, Lite

Just after it passed city council, one of the leading opponents reportedly sold and left the ’hood. However, preservationists are concerned that the effort, which opens up the process to separately negotiated “covenants,” may undermine the effectiveness of other historic-overlay efforts.

Downtown North

Park ‘n’ Shop 

Rotten Tomatoes

Spare a Dollar?

Bonnaroo: Where Hippies and Hipsters Unite

UT Roundup

Jim and Natalie Haslam and the Haslam Family Foundation donated $32.5 million to the University. Seventy percent was designated for academics with the remaining 30 percent going to athletics. That sounds about right.

• Facilities

In other news, Kingston Apartments have been sold. A business administration building, the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, a 3,000-seat Lady Vols soccer stadium, a basketball practice facility and a swimming/diving complex continue to take shape.

• Arts

• Image

A well-received advertising campaign promises to have a positive impact on UT’s fUTure. A competition sparked ideas for the branding technique. Successful submissions included repUTation, oUTreach and neUTron. The campus street-corner preacher known for barking declarations like “God thinks all college girls are whores!” entered slUT and prostitUTe, but was not selected.

Unlike several recent predecessors, current UT President John Petersen has done nothing scandalous—that we know of. Well done, Petersen.

Hearing Voices

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Most Happy Festival

Family Uno

Greek Fest

Market Square Farmers’ Market


Market Square Update

This year also saw the return of the Market Square ice-skating rink. So far, it’s been a huge success again, with over 1,000 people a day skating on the weekends and several hundred on weekdays. The rink is often filled to the brim with both children and adults, all happily crashing into each other and falling down with glee. One bummer, though, is that the rink has planted a night watchman to guard the rink from all the drunken Preservation Pub customers who wish to skate—if you can call it that—at 2 a.m. Come on, it’s not like they’re hurting anyone but themselves.

Downtown Sushi restaurant Nama got a Market Square sister this year. Owner Gregg White opened La Costa in the spring, with its large selection of fancified Mexican food, or “Nuevo Latino cuisine with a fresh twist.” They’re now offering brunch and a great happy hour, with half-priced bottles of wine and cheap margaritas. Oh, and the food’s really good, too.

Air In-equality

Most of the air improvement since 2004 has come through improved emissions standards met by the motor vehicle industry, but the impetus is still strong for reductions in emissions by TVA’s coal-fired plants as well as local private industrial polluters.

Though the air is clearly better today than three years ago, according to Knoxville officials, the city still appears high on lists of most-polluted by organizations advocating reductions to help people, especially asthma or lung disease victims, breathe.

A Tale of Two Mayors

City Mayor Bill Haslam positioned himself behind a seeming Teflon shield to run for a second term in this coming year’s elections until late this year when he met his first real highly publicized problem in office—something about an Empowerment Zone.

Regardless, the names of both Mayor Haslam and Knoxville state Sen. Jamie Woodson have been bandied about this year as possible GOP gubernatorial candidates in 2010, but neither has given an inkling of whether they might make a run for governor.


Brand-new UT men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl finished out the ‘05-’06 campaign with an impressive 22-8 record, a Southeastern Conference East regular season championship, and a no. 2 seed in their region of the NCAA tourney, where the Vols lost to Wichita State after a first-round victory over Winthrop. And Pearl looks to be building on his first-year success in ‘06-’07, as he enters the SEC portion of his schedule with big wins over ranked teams Memphis and Oklahoma State, as well as a semi-final berth in the preseason National Invitational Tournament. If the Vols can find a steady point guard, look out NCAA….

And then there’s, the goils, Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols basketball squad, which came into the ‘06-’07 season ranked “only” No. 5 in pre-season polls, due in part to a disappointing finish to the ‘05-’06 season. Of course, in the lingua franca of Lady Volspeak, “disappointing” means a 31-5 overall record and a No. 2 regional finish in the NCAA tourney. That’s damned impressive—unless you’re accustomed, as Summitt is, to perennial Final Four appearances. But never fear: Summitt’s ladies are rebounding (pun intended) as if nothing untoward ever happened, heading into the SEC season with only a single black mark in the loss column.

Toys! Candy! Christmas Sweaters!

Gay Street Viaduct Reopens

Charter Dilemma

Elections’ Uncertainty and Certitude

Gov. Phil Bredesen was handed a second term by an overwhelming margin, and the Knox County Legislative delegation met with no surprises in the members’ return to office.

Congressman Jimmy Duncan showed that an anti-war Republican could post an impressive vote total around here in being reelected.

The county’s municipal status was left open, along with term limits for 12 commissioners and even the constitutional offices, except for judges, pending a ruling by the state Supreme Court, but that’s another story.

First Fridays

You’ll overhear them as people make their way down Gay Street. When there’s wine, everyone has an opinion. Wannabes will play the game, look at each piece, and comment. It’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s First Friday, and everyone has an opinion. This year, with more galleries—from The Art Market Gallery on Gay Street’s 400-block to the Ironwood Studios off of Central Ave.—the first Friday of every month draws more people than ever before. We even saw our first all-nude exhibit, “The Body Sacred,” which was on display this fall in the Mason’s Building at the corner of Summit Hill and Gay Street.

It may never be Neylandian in scope, but it’s growing each month. There are still plenty of people who haven’t seen it yet. But, they’re talking about it, trying to see it. And, they’re downtown, gathered around art.

A Strip by Any Other Name

Everybody who had an interest in what’s become a jaywalkers’ nightmare, a haven for open-and-shut bars and a screaming chain of fast-food restaurants was invited to have a say and draw a depiction of what the avenue ought to look and feel like in an early December charrette process over two days at UT.

The university faculty and administrators were joined by students, property and business owners and representatives of the Ft. Sanders hospital complex in taking on the task. Hundreds of ideas were being boiled down by the city and its consultants at year’s end for 2007 recommendations.

Hardly Going South

With curriculum expansion and a continued influx of students, the school has outgrown its earlier facilities on Parkside Drive and is looking to new four-year programs to fill its growing facilities.

All Up in the Old City’s Biz-nass

Un-railroaded Plot

The industrial park landed its first major prospect, a food service distribution firm that wants a big chunk of its land for a warehousing terminal.

Settlement of the lawsuits and the fresh prospect for redevelopment had the city breathing a sigh of relief.

Taken to School

Named Hardin Valley High School, the new classrooms are needed to alleviate overcrowding at Farragut, Karns and Bearden High Schools, but the number of students it will serve is up in the air, along with plans for its athletics facilities.

When Mayor Mike Ragsdale, who pushed for the school, found that its projected cost soared above the amount budgeted from county taxes, including the wheel-tax increase he sold on the basis of a new high school, he held his budget ground. That meant reassessing the student body size downward and cutting back on some of the school’s features. A solution satisfactory to the school board, County Commission and the school’s future constituency is yet to be finalized.

Candy Factory Fallout

“The city did prop up this area for years and years,” Tom Parkhill, the founding artistic director of the Tennessee Stage Company, told an MP reporter a few months later. “You got to give them credit for that. [The Candy Factory] was a pretty vibrant and energetic place, but it didn’t stop over night. It kinda petered out eventually.”

Meanwhile, Liza Zenni, the executive director of the Arts and Culture Alliance, was excited. “I think the 100 block is going to blossom,” she said. “When the Alliance was created four years ago, we wanted to create a voice to strengthen our community, a barnacle on the hull of the ship of state.”

And the energy has moved. The 100-block is always packed, especially on First Fridays. Three Flights Up, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the Carpetbag Theatre, among others, have taken up residence in the Emporium. UT’s Downtown Gallery opened. On nearby Central Ave., David Wolff opened the Fluorescent Gallery. In the Old City, Host Clothing and the Basement Gallery have attracted a young, energetic crowd, those who can drink you under the table and still make great art. Way out on Kingston Pike, Bennett and Hanson Galleries are still going strong. Mighty Mud Gallery and the Wild Wood Gallery line Sutherland Ave., along with a relative newcomer, Agora Gallery.

“I’ve always thought that Knoxville had potential,” said Sara Blair, director of Agora. “Now, it has potential and is just a step away from being really incredible. You got to give a lot of credit to Three Flights Up and all the people on Gay Street. They really got the ball moving, and if it wasn’t for them, I don’t think we’d be successful either.”

Get Thee to a Theater

Theatre Knoxville Downtown, which moved into Theatre Central’s old space just before the city blew up the Gay St. viaduct, was able to hold on until the new viaduct was complete. They even performed their first original musical, Forbidden Knoxville . The Actor’s Co-op is having its most experimental season in years, not missing a chance to mess with our conservative, Podunk heads since they performed Hedwig and the Angry Inch , a rock-opera about a transgender German bandleader. And, on campus, the development of new talent is continuing, as it always has.

“It’s my intention to make the UT acting conservatory one of the top five in the country,” says Jed Diamond, head of UT’s MFA acting program. “We’re very small, but we can offer wonderful training to actors. Once I started looking into it, I was shocked at what I thought could be accomplished. I hope we will have a substantial effect on what kind of theater is being done in Knoxville, not just in the Clarence Brown Theatre. I want to train actors the same way medical students are trained, in a professional environment.”

Feminist Central

This Bud’s For You, Hank

Turkey Creek

“It wasn’t a wetland to begin with,” Jim Nixon, one of the original Turkey Creek land partners, told the Volunteer Valley Business Journal in 2001. “We spent a lot of money on it. It’s a wetland now.”

There used to be a line of trees where Turkey Creek development butts up against the Farragut town line. There’s minor construction on the Farragut side, where stricter regulations tend to deter most developers. (In Farragut, if you cut down a tree, you must replace it with a tree that’s the same size or larger.)

“It’s evolving into a better wetland all the time,” said Mark Campen of the Izaac Walton League, the group charged with maintaining the wetland. “Looking back at photos from the ’60s and ’70s, there was a lot more dry land then.” And the area keeps getting bigger, populated with more shoppers each season.

Nuked Racetrack

The decision by the track’s owner met with a howl of protest from both racing fans and some of the area’s residents, who succeeded in getting the Roane County Commission to put off a decision on needed rezoning until January.

The owner, Ed Adams, says the 30-plus-year-old racetrack is closed for good either way, as he’s been losing money hand over fist and has had it or sale for a year without another prospective buyer. So, either way, it’s an end to a spectacular racing era there, no matter what the Roane officials decide.

I, Audience

• When the vaudevillians of the Yard Dog Road Show stepped onstage at the Bijou, there were musicians, carnies, flappers, freaks, burlesque girls and a ringmaster. It was poetically ridiculous. We knew that it was going to be a killer year.

• We went to Skatetown in Fountain City for Elizabeth “The Hussla” Wright’s birthday, member of Dirty Knees, Fistful of Crows and Goddamn City. That was before Meg Vincent moved to New York and Maxi & the Pads had to break up.

• Will Fist never missed an opportunity to unroll a beer-stained carpet for an impromptu session with his thrash-blues outfit Lobster Lobster Lobster. It’s kind of like a faster version of The Melvins. Fist will sometimes polish off a bottle of Jim Bean and play a little slide guitar with velveteen cocksureness, the kind of bottlenecking that you usually see deep in the Mississippi Delta.

When asked if they ever practiced the old Jim-Beam-Slide-Guitar, singer Mitch Garza said, “I dunno.... It kind of impresses me.”

• Cinco de Mayo gave us a night of eclectic music in the Old City, a night which became memorably hazy as Urban Bar’s $2 Coronas kept the music machine lubricated well into Seis de Mayo.

“Anyone here ever been to Morristown?” asked Jon Worley, frontman for the bluesy, shoeless, hillbilly-and-proud-of-it Cornbred Blues Band, onstage at Patrick Sullivan’s. “It’s in the fourth most polluted county in the nation. I’ve been drinking the tap water there all my life. Only got a couple growths to report.”

• The Cheat, Cold Hands and Engineering, the Georgian post-hardcore, totally danceable trio, all rocked the New Knox Brewing Company’s tasting room. Engineering pulled off a stellar set, even though a horde of Cold Hands fans had already closed their tabs and headed for the exits. “You all are lame!” someone yelled. “Get back in here!” another chimed in.

“Freebird!” went the wino.

“Boston rules!” came the guy who had far too much hefe-weiss.

The Engineering song, “Don’t Act Surprised,” goes something like: “They showed us around / This empty space you call a town … never know where things went wrong.” Engineering had our town described before they even stepped foot in it.

• Dirty Works guitarist Stephen Crime, swaggering offstage after the battle of the bands at AJ’s Sports Bar in Maryville, told MP that he had decided to further embrace debauchery. “When people ask me what I play,” he grinned, “I say that I play the Booze.”

• During a Moral Decay show at the Longbranch, things got out of control. Andy Christ, the mohawked singer of Murfreesboro’s punk-sludge outfit Stiff Resistance, started some aggravated slam dancing. And a group of Nazis joined in. Fists started flying. Girls got pinned up against the bar. A dreadlocked hippie came out of nowhere to jump into the fray. Lucas Flatt, guitarist for local sludge-metal powerhouse Sadville, took a blow to the head. There was a little swelling, and it was still a little puffy the next day when Flatt had to get all glam-rocked for his role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Black Box Theatre.

• We lost power in the Old City. An itinerant with a broomhandle was questioned by police, who promptly confiscated the potential weapon and pointed him in the direction of the bus station. Computers were still running on batteries, so the tabs stayed open. “Screw David Allen Coe!” they hollered at the Pilot Light. “We’re going acoustic.”

The Dog Ball Landfill Band, still sporting smiles, rocked out their four-part set, singing songs about huffin’ fumes and political intrigue. And about partying, sweet, sweet party-party-party! Sometime during the set, a disgruntled David Allen Coe fan stumbled into the Pilot Light.

He introduced himself only as “Cowboy.”

“Those guitars sound like crap!” he roared.

“Play some Cash,” he cooed.

“You’re disgrace!” he belched.

Outside, a makeshift discotheque was in the works. Police officers used glo-sticks to direct traffic, and all the blue lights provided great disco, if you’re into that kind of thing. A gaggle of girls passed us, using their MP s as bonnets. Cowboy also wandered outside, looking to scare up some money for another PBR.

• Ryan Adams pissed off most of Knox County at the Bijou. According to his blog at “DONT WORRY I WONT BOTHER NEXT TIME. SERIOUSLY. I WILL PLAY SOMEWHERE ELSE AND WILL SLEEP LIKE A FUCKING BABY AS WE ROLL PAST YA.” Take care, Ryan.

• Local singer/songwriter Casey Jones moved to Copenhagen after a beautiful farewell concert at the Urban Bar. There’s not enough space to mention everything that Jones has done for our music scene. We’ve missed him, all those random nights when he just happened to be playing on the stage of your favorite downtown bar.

• After Brewer’s Jam, as the beerheavy hordes began to disperse, a small group of merrymakers gathered near the corner of 11th and Clinch. They were dancing, emboldened by the part-country/jazz, part blues/bluegrass, San Diego-based jammers Tap Water. They were scheduled to play Sunday night at Preservation Pub, but when there’s a crowd of beery music lovers, it probably doesn’t matter when you’re scheduled to play.