cover_story (2007-01)

In hindsight, we realize we may have been a little overzealous with 2006’s “Year in Preview” predictions, penned a year ago this week. Buildings didn’t go up that were supposed to, other projects got lost in the fold altogether, and who could’ve predicted the twists and turns local politics would take. Our county charter declared invalid? Madeline Rogero joining the Haslam administration? Get out.

Bottom line: Knoxville’s unpredictable, and only fools would endeavor to venture a guess at what its future holds in store. But fools we are.

This year, though, we decided to take a minor precaution. We’ve divided our predictions neatly down middle into the categories of “Maybe” (stuff we’re so sure is going to happen, we’d put money—OK, maybe a dollar—on it) and “Maybe Not” (things we’d like to see go down and possibly could, but probably won’t).

With that, let’s get this crystal ball rolling.


Cardinal’s Enterprises

The first three floors of the Burwell, the tall, 99-year-old former office building in front of the Tennessee Theatre, are already finished and occupied by retail and offices, among them those of an obscure weekly called Metro Pulse . Eight floors above will be, beginning in 2007, entirely upscale residential. A couple of the 17 units are already occupied; Cardinal reports that most of the rest will be finished and occupied by March.

It’s the sort of irony you get used to, living here: the most famous building in Knoxville has been underused and off limits to the public for most of the 25 years since it was built. Cardinal and Chattanooga developer Kinsey Probasco Hays are proposing development for the Sunsphere, with restaurants and offices. As the year opens, the Sunsphere is still up in the air, in a limbo of negotiations between the prospective developers and the city. The year 2007 will probably determine its fate.

The much-delayed ca. 1914 Brownlow School on the fringe of Fourth and Gill has been testing the patience of its neighbors. After it was abandoned as a school about a decade ago, it has bogged down one developer after another, Cardinal took over, and has completed a new set of drawings, and means to start construction in the spring.

Candy Factory: Already sold out as a condo project, the World War I-era building at World’s Fair Park goes condo this year in a big way. All 47 of its units are sold, and construction is underway, to be completed by November.

For years, all the news about upscale residences downtown has concerned historic-renovation projects. The first new residential construction downtown in decades is going up on the corner of Union and Walnut, adjacent to the new Market Square parking garage. The 24-unit building may be finished by spring.

The new residents at the Union Avenue apartments should arrive in time to watch the construction of the Home Federal addition, across the street, at the site of the old Sprankle Building torn down in 2005. Though construction doesn’t appear imminent on what’s now a parking lot, the bank announced that the new building would be erected in 2007.

Maybe the single most ambitious renovation project underway in East Tennessee this year is that of the 14-story Holston Building, being renovated for condos, a project by prodigious renovator David Dewhirst, architect Mark Heinz, and others. Interior demolition of the 1912 bank and office building is concluding, and construction will proceed in 2007 for a planned 42 condo units; it won’t be ready for occupancy until 2008.

Dewhirst Properties will at least commence work on the recently acquired JFG Coffee factory on Jackson Avenue, to convert it into a mixed-use development of retail and condos. We wish he could have saved the aroma along with the buildings.

“The Gallery” is what they’re calling the part of the Mast building that’s not Mast. It will open in very early 2007, with 13 residential units, several of them already sold, and a few offices. In charge are Wayne Blasius, who’s credited with recruiting Mast to Knoxville, and his partners John Craig and Faris Eid.

In limbo ever since the grandly moderne old Gay Street cafeteria closed in 1982, the S&W is officially still “in discussions” between the city and developers Blasius, Eid, and Craig. But the city recently crossed one bureaucratic hurdle, and a plurality of rumors seem to suggest an upscale restaurant, with a seasoned restaurateur in charge. Among many details yet to be announced is whether they’re going to bring back the lady organist.

Part of the century-old Commerce Building on the 100 block of Gay Street was converted into condos years ago. Now California-based developer Cole Smith is renovating the building’s other three addresses as 15 luxury condos with three retail spaces, one of which will reportedly be a modest “grill”-type restaurant. A few of the condos are spoken for, but most are still available. They’re due to open in the spring.

English-born developer Jeffrey Nash is finishing a two-penthouse, one-studio mixed-use project on Clinch near Market called the Sandstone Building to open in ’07. Meanwhile, Nash will begin work on an 18-unit “affordable condo” renovation project on North Central, which, with art galleries and studios and a couple of cool nightspots, is looking to some like downtown’s bohemian fringe.

It hasn’t been fun to stay at the YMCA in a long time, but a much-delayed project to render 14 condos from three long-unused residential floors of the venerable association’s 1929 building near World’s Fair Park is slated to be finished in mid-2007, as the YMCA itself adds a large new fitness center below.

And some old predictions renewed….

Still Waiting for the “Town Center” Part

Transit Center’s Last Stop?

Cabernet on Gay

Baker’s Acre

Wanted: Nice Landlord

Meanwhile, Bernadette West will be sentenced for her role in the plot on January 9; her husband Scott West is already in jail, but will soon be transferred to a minimum-security federal penitentiary in either Montgomery or Lexington to serve an approximately six-year sentence.

The Secret-Agenda Demolition

Fettuccine Rossini and a Vodka Martini

Doing the Second Creek Slide

More Turkey Creek Flooding?

With over 1.5 million square feet of retail space, a million feet of office space, and a half-million feet of restaurants and entertainment, the Turkey Creek development has never been without controversy. It’s the biggest single development in Knoxville’s history, and its wetlands have been a talking point for local environmentalists. That won’t change in 2007.

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

“It’s evolving into a better wetland all the time,” says Mark Campen of Tennessee’s Izaac Walton League (IWL), the current managing entity of the wetland. “Looking back at photos from the ’60s and ’70s, there was a lot more dry land then.”

True, it’s not uncommon for passersby to see muskrats and even beavers during a leisurely walk along the Turkey Creek greenway, which passes through the wetland. IWL officials say that new beaver dams are being built, right smack in the middle of a large-scale development.

Get Thee to a Theater

And good things will continue to happen for Knoxville’s theater troupes in 2007. Fresh off of a very successful—and, by most accounts, very edgy—season, the Actor’s Co-op will not be slowing down, beginning their ’07 season with Landscape with Stick Figures , by Stephen Alan McGraw. The play is a docudrama, going deep into psychological material as it follows a high school shooting. “It’s not a world premiere,” says Amy Hubbard, director and founder of the Co-op, “but it’s a Tennessee premiere, for whatever that’s worth.”

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Stage Company will hold its New Play Festival, Feb. 15 through March 4, with performances of Texico Star , a play by Margo Haas. There will be two other staged readings: Dangerous Heterosexuals , by Paul Leeper, which is an interesting play about a prostitute and a Bible salesman; and Picture Perfect , a murder-mystery by Gary Earle Ross. (Last year, Ross was the winner of an Edgar Allan Poe award. The TSC was also nominated for that award, for their production of Leeper’s Safe House .)

There are also rumors that George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion will be performed for TSC’s “Timeless Works Series.”

For Shakespeare on the Square, July 12 through Aug. 12, TSC will tackle The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing . “We had an awfully good run last year,” says Tom Parkhill, founding director of the TSC. “We increased our audience, as we do every year. We played to over 6,000 people.” It may not be a crowd of your typical theatergoers, because this crowd can be beery and rowdy, depending on the play and the actors’ skill. It’s much more Elizabethan than most of what you’ll find inside a modern theater. Perhaps John Marston said it best in the early 17th century, when he described the Elizabethan theatergoer as “pasted to the balmy jacket of the beer-brewer.”

TSC keeps that tradition alive and well in Knoxville.

Without Music, Life Would Be a Mistake

There’s more. We have the Pilot Light, which always brings in some of the most interesting indie acts from around the country, even around the globe—did you see Vialka last year? The Prince Deli, way out west on Lovell Road, is anything but boring. Corner Lounge has never been better, as we look forward to the third year of Hottfest. Old City Java and the Electric Ballroom remain the best places to see an all-ages show. Blue Cats is averaging at least one must-see show a month. Here are a few lineups that we could run down.

Tennessee Theatre: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver with Blue Moon Rising and Robinella (Jan. 20), Soweto Gospel Choir (Feb. 13), Tommy Emmanuel (Feb. 16), Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder (March 2), moe. [sic] (March 7), Tony Rice with Alison Krauss (May 14). And, believe it or not, Mannheim Steamroller will be in town on April 15. Guess they have something in their repertoire that isn’t Christmas themed.

Bijou Theatre: Red Stick Ramblers and The Wilders (Jan. 11), Yo La Tengo (Jan. 27), Jeff Tweedy (Jan. 30), An Evening with the Dave Holland Sextet (Feb. 7), Yonder Mountain String Band (Feb. 21), Altan (Feb. 27), and Umphrey’s McGee (March 2).

Blue Cats: Pink Spiders (Jan. 16), Josh Rouse (Jan. 19), Mastodon (Feb. 1), and G-Love and Special Sauce (March 1).

Bonnaroo Radio

Gentrify This

“Art-deco, we’d have been fine with, but I just can’t believe they’re going with a ’60s pop-art theme for the interior,” comments Patrick McInturff of the Fourth and Gill Neighborhood Association, which has expressed concern about the project since the get-go. “All those Campbell’s soup can prints? For residents who may not even be sure where their next meal is coming from, that’s pretty cruel, don’t you think?”

Penny Baxter, representative of the nearby Old North Knoxville History District, chimes in on the debate as well. “Totally gauche. I was really hoping they’d select a Georgian Revival theme, or—hey, let’s go out on a limb here—something a little more exotic. I sent them some Moroccan-style fabric swatches; maybe they got lost in the mail.”

But VMC Director Ginny Weatherstone expresses confidence in the Fifth Avenue Hotel’s new aesthetic. “Pop-art icons like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein… they’re household names, even for those of us who don’t have a home. I mean, you can’t say the same thing about neoclassisicm, or post-impressionist artists, can you? We’re transcending boundaries here, people. Open the mind, and the heart will follow.”

Preliminary renderings of the renovated hotel also show an organic community garden, decorative lighting, a state-of-the-art gym, a parking garage custom-designed to accommodate grocery carts, and a Starbucks.

Bob, a 57-year-old indigent who will become one of the revamped hotel’s new residents, says he’s excited about his new home. “You know, all of this yuppie skepticism is unwarranted. Fifth Avenue Hotel, our vision of it, is going to take this area to a whole new level. All I’m saying is: VMC Holiday Home Tour, 2007. Mark your calendar.”

SmartFUX 40

Still reeling from the 10-month closure of James White Parkway, South Knoxville residents can be seen standing on the south bank of the Tennessee River, hand-in-hand, weary of feasting on Chapman Highway cuisine, staring wistfully at the far shore. Tragedy strikes when a handful of resourceful SoKno residents team up and build a boat to ford the river, but are eaten alive just before reaching the Vol Navy dock by elephantine carp from the nearby Calhoun’s waterfront restaurant.  

4.0, Baby

What Goes Around Keeps Coming Around

Rogero sorts out the mess in Community Development and smoothes down the ruffled feathers in the African-American community, emerging a hero figure to Knoxville Democrats, who put her up against the mayor in the fall election.

“Durn,” Haslam is quoted as saying, “I thought I had co-opted her by bringing her into this administration.” Haslam wins reelection by a whisker and appoints Rogero as his chief of staff.

The mayor immediately forms a campaign committee, looking toward the 2008 gubernatorial election. Others who signal their intentions to run for governor on the Republican ticket include Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, who advocates tax reform to switch the state’s revenue base entirely to wheel taxes on motor vehicles, and state Sen. Jamie Woodson, who starts stumping for a total  revamping of the state’s education system dictated by a committee of one, the governor.

Frank Nicely, the veteran state representative, switches to the Agrarian Reform Party and announces his first bid for statewide office.

The Big Guns

“It’s a more powerful means of negotiation,” City Councilman Steve Hall explains to New-Sentinel reporter Hayes Hickman following one of several gun-draws at a recent City Council meeting. Hickman, realizing he’s going to get the quote he requested, lowers his gun and listens. “For instance, a few minutes ago, when Councilman Rob Frost pointed a gun at Marilyn Roddy, it wasn’t because he wanted to shoot. They were just having a disagreement, and he wanted her to listen.”

Cyberballots to be Tallied by Bloggers

Run by a bipartisan group overseeing the city’s non-partisan elections, www.catchmeifyoucan is the central counting site, monitored by John Emison, the apolitical activist home-ruler who forced the closing of the South Knox County Lowe’s store by challenging the voter referendum in which one voter allowed for the area’s annexation by the city. Emison refers to the reversed referendum outcome as a clear case of “intimate domain.”

Pigskin Prognostication

In the meantime, the University of Alabama, on the heels of yet another coaching debacle in 2006, finds itself once again without a head coach at the end of 2007. (The Crimson Tide athletic director disastrously hires and fires three different coaches between January and November of ’07, including former Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Jim Mora, a squirrel, and a 78-year-old Jewish grandmother who claims to be a channeling medium for the spirit of the late Paul “Bear” Bryant.)

By mistake, the Tide AD consults a list of potential new coaching hirees that includes candidates who are actually (a) well-qualified, and (b) available. Before he realizes what he’s doing, he offers the Alabama job to Cutcliffe, who accepts.

And at Ole Miss University, which fired Cutcliffe from his only previous head coaching job in 2004 when Cutcliffe’s strong 44-29 record there failed to live down to the Rebels’ long-held standard of dubious mediocrity, Rebel sports brass find themselves in need of a new skipper when current head coach and accused woman-beater Ed Orgeron resigns out of frustration and embarrassment at his losing record. Confounded and dazed, the Rebels AD also mistakenly makes a shrew hiring decision, offering the Ole Miss job to UT defensive coordinator Chavis.

Fulmer seems remarkably calm, despite having lost his two ace assistants. He issues a statement that he’s “certain that David and John will both be very successful in their new endeavors.” The reason for Fulmer’s equanimity? Observers note that successful outings at Ole Miss and ‘Bama will surely result in both men getting summarily fired, thus leaving them open to return to the University of Tennessee.

Hoops Hopes

In women’s hoops, the Lady Vols return to the Final Four again in ’06-’07, narrowly losing to Maryland in the NCAA championship final. Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt later proceeds to kick off the ’07-’08 season with a pay-per-view wrestling challenge pitting her against her arch-nemesis, University of Connecticut women’s basketball Asshole-in-Chief Geno Auriemma. A knee to the Adam’s apple takes Auriemma down hard in the third minute of the match. Wincing under the strain of an armbar, Auriemma finally submits by pronouncing  (for the first time) Summitt’s full name and school affiliation clearly for the television audience, fearful that he might otherwise lose a limb.

Knoxville Marathon: A Tainted Victory

Square Wares

The Square continues to be a hot spot for special events, adding to its already extensive roster of concerts and performances a pagan equinoctial celebration in spring, which includes a Maypole dance, goat sacrifice and ritual orgy demo; and the Titans of Zydeco touring music festival in early fall. In December, on the heels of two very successful seasons of ice skating on Market Square, organizers decide to build a fiberglass mountain in the middle of the Square, complete with fake snow-maker, and have an artificial ski slope instead of a skating rink for ’07-’08. Before construction on the fake ski mountain begins, however—preemptive pun alert now in effect—cooler heads prevail.

McClung Warehouses: Going Nowhere Faster

KCDC chief Alvin Nance, who has seemingly hinted on several past occasions that KCDC may consider annexing the warehouses should Saroff fail to remediate the blighted buildings, reiterates that, “KCDC is on the verge of considering the possibility of re-weighing the necessity of reevaluating the options, and determining a viable alternative strategy that may be considered for future implementation, depending on the results of our continuing reassessment process.”

Movies Move In?

Mayor Bill Haslam shrewdly keeps the project moving on the funding end, however, standing firm on his promise to avoid putting city taxpayers on the hook for a huge portion of the project’s cost. Eschewing the large-scale use of city funds, Haslam manages to muster extra cash for the project through a complicated series of financial moves including bond issues, remortgaging the Sunsphere, weekly bake sales at the City County Building, several Jingle Jumbo Bucks lottery tickets, and a deal with the Tennessee Titans involving a backup tight end and a draft pick to be named later.

When the theater finally opens in December, city officials insist that the first movie screened there—the fourth and latest installment of those f!@#ing Tim Allen Santa Clause movies—should in no way be seen as indicative of the future of quality cinema on Gay Street.

Water Frontin’

The New Downtown

Stripping The Strip of Pedestrians

Stay the Second Course

Cough: It’s Not Just for Hernia Testing Any More

Atomic Speedway Goes Bigtime

Making the Most of a Crowded Situation

Up in Smoke

Crystal Ball

• Local rockers the American Plague will trade in their leather for patchouli and Phish T-shirts, opting for a “loose, southern-fried sound, with lots of improv, man” instead of the metal-inflected punk rock that has been their signature. Plague members Jaw, Tilmon Navarre and Dave Dammit will subsequently change their stage names to Moon-orchid, Firelight and Squirrel.

• After leaving town to tour with his thrash-blues outfit, Lobster Lobster Lobster, Will Fist will return to Knoxville to find that all of his other projects have merged into one supergroup, known only as “Damn Creepy Fecal Fistful, It’s Still a Code.”

• Despite the fact that their shows continue to draw sell-out crowds to local venues, funky rock outfit Dishwater Blonde will be forced to disband when guitarist Cozmo Holloway’s afro grows too large to permit anyone else in the band to take the stage.

• Distinguished local Appalachian-boho writer/musician R.B. Morris will release an acclaimed new album that features a mixture of Americana-inflected folk rock, solo poetry readings and portentous throat-clearing.

• Singer-songwriter Scott Miller will release his fourth studio album, an instant hit on the nation’s Americana charts entitled Trains, Ex-girlfriends, and Famous Dead People .

• Robinella Cruz of Robinella and the CC Stringband and Christa de Cicco of Christabel and the Jons will continue to vie for the title of the city’s most impressive female frontwoman. I understand that both ladies are extraordinarily talented singers, too.

• Chris Rusk, drummer for just about every band in Knoxville and Dixie Dirt, is now of legal drinking age. His Dionysian appetites will usher in a fecund era of Knoxvillian debauchery. No woman will be safe. No PBR unfinished. All is lost.

• Mac Comer, our local hippie dude, will smoke so much dope that he’ll totally forget to see moe. [sic] play the Tennessee Theatre. He’ll write a song about it.

• After nearly two years of giving glowing reviews to Alan Jackson and Big & Rich records, Knoxville Voice music editor Matthew Everett will finally admit that Nashville sucks.

• Knoxville music producer and former Superdrag drummer Don Coffey will record CDs for 175 local rock bands, 95 singer-songwriters, 48 solo instrumentalists, 12 spoken word artists and a miscellaneous handful of drunks who wander into his studio by accident—all for a cost of about 36 cents per album, not accounting for beer expenses. The vast majority ends up sounding far better than they deserve.

• Grifter, local mystery man, will continue his reign as one of the fiercest graffiti artists in Knoxville. You’ll find it difficult to go anywhere without seeing his tag. He’ll also start using superfluous umlauts, because they really jazz up his name. Grïftër.

• Longtime local rocker Todd Steed is a year older, yet will continue to be unimpeachably cool.