editorial (2006-26)

Give the Public Back Its Garage

Real Progress Toward the New ‘Riviera’

Give the Public Back Its Garage

The ban on public parking in the City County Building garage, a sore spot for four years, will undergo a public hearing soon, according to the committee on garage security’s draft report, released this week.

Composed of city and county officials, the committee issued the report including several suggestions for possible alternatives to parking in the City County garage. It recommends that the garage beneath the building remain closed to the public “as an unpleasant but necessary precaution to guard against a variety of threats.”

Security costs are the crux of the issue, as there are now only two points of pedestrian entry to the building where visitors are screened for weapons. Such screenings used to take place outside the various courtrooms, where weapons were occasionally detected. There was no real consideration given to closing the garage prior to 9/11, so the threat of terrorism must be considered the real reason behind the closing, which has made parking to visit the building a public dilemma.

The committee’s proposal to seek public opinion on the matter is a good one. The proposal is to gather “input on the continued closure of the garage and on how access [to the building] and waterfront amenities might be enhanced.”

Law enforcement officials and security consultants have urged the continued closure, even though the risk of a terrorist attack on this or any other municipality seems remote, when the targets have been federal or economic. Plus, any terrorist with such a crazy idea could drive a van loaded with explosives through any of the ingress or egress gates by simply knocking aside a flimsy gate and could have done so easily at anytime in the four frustrating years the ban has been in effect. That possibility has brought the committee to encourage the Public Building Authority, which manages the building, to implement a plan to install crash-resistant/vehicle-proof barriers at the entries and exits to the garage, quite an expense in itself, although no cost figures for the barriers were mentioned by the committee.

The parking alternatives include the Dwight Kessel Parking Garage on State Street, a block away and down a hill steep enough to pose a significant problem to the disabled. Regardless, the committee report says the county should consider authorizing two hours of free parking in the Kessel garage for citizens who need to use the city and county services in their building.

Another recommendation is that the city and county work cooperatively to better educate citizens about the availability of free trolley service to the City County Building. And it suggests that the city, the county and the PBA consider establishing a surface parking lot, exclusively for the handicapped, on green space on Hill Avenue adjacent to the City County Building, with an eye to setting a freestanding parking garage on that space in the future to serve the general public.

Another garage? Taking precious downtown green space?

The City County Building has a garage. It was built to accommodate the public as well as building employees. Hourly fees were assessed to the public to park there. Those fees could be collected again and used to pay for security screening measures that still allowed for public parking. This prohibition has effectively deterred many citizens from using their government building and attending public meetings there, including City Council and County Commission sessions, for far too long.

When the hearing date and time is announced, attend and complain. The site the committee proposed for the hearing is the John T. O’Connor Senior Citizen Center on Winona Street in near-East Knoxville.

When the draft report was presented to County Commission, Commissioner Mike McMillan acknowledged that site selection drolly. “There’s public parking there,” he said.


Real Progress Toward the New ‘Riviera’

It’s gratifying to see that construction progress is finally being made. The theater’s eight screens should be a great draw downtown, especially for UT students and South Knoxvillians, for whom it will be the closest place to view a first-run film. Downtown residents can also rejoice at the prospect of a movie theater to walk to.

Even more importantly to all Knoxvillians and people who are convinced the downtown will regain all or most of its former regional prominence, businesses and prospective business opportunities all around downtown will be enhanced by the increased pedestrian traffic the cinema will produce. Restaurants and clubs, already flourishing, are likely to expand and multiply.

Harking back to the history of the Gay Street site, home to a movie house that has long since been torn down, Regal is naming the new multiplex the Riviera. As a major point in Knoxville’s downtown revival, that namesake choice is truly fitting.

The Riviera, along with the beautifully renovated Tennessee and Bijou Theatres, all within a block and a half and the latter two providing nightly venues for a host of other entertainment forms, appear sure to restore the theater-district reputation that Gay Street once enjoyed.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer street.