editorial (2006-51)

Winding 2006 Down

Another year of whipping the community into shape and simply whipping county government

Winding 2006 Down

Another year is heading into the Knoxville history book, and this one will have made its share of history. The biggest single issue, the one that caused the biggest flap and may yet generate a problem of singular proportions, has been the uncertainty over Knox County’s municipal Charter.

The hubbub began with a state Supreme Court ruling last spring in Shelby County that seemed to effectively invoke term limits upon county officeholders. The limits, passed overwhelmingly in a 1994 Knox voter referendum, had been held in abeyance since then under a state attorney general’s opinion that was never taken to court.

In the ensuing round of litigation, Knox Chancellor John Weaver ruled the entire Charter invalid, throwing into question all county ordinances and actions taken over the past decade and a half. That ruling was appealed.

It took the intervention of U.S. District Court Judge Jimmy Jarvis, who couldn’t rule on an ordinance case in his court, to get the state Supreme Court to “reach down” and hear arguments on the appeal of the chancellor’s decision, and the high court promised to expedite its ruling.

That was more than two months ago, and in the wee, short days of December, the county is still in the dark about its Charter and the fate of most of its elected officials, including 12 members of the 19-member Commission that is gamely attempting to function as a legislative body.

That legal squabble has dominated the Knoxville political landscape, the May primary, and August general county elections. It was still being bandied about at the time of the November elections of state and federal officials. The Charter was hardly the only newsmaker of the year.

Downtown Knoxville’s miraculous rejuvenation kept up its feverish pace, with the opening of the Mast General Store, the first major retailer on Gay Street in many years, and the start of construction on the multi-plex cinema reviving the Riviera name up the street. Those developments took place as the boom in downtown residential property continued and the advent of new restaurants and small retailers downtown moved onward, punctuated by the startling arrest and conviction of entrepreneurs Scott and Bernadette West on federal marijuana and money-laundering charges.

Redevelopment plans were on the move in South Knoxville as well, with a waterfront project that has gained momentum and some public enthusiasm. Toward the year’s end, attempts to salvage the Cumberland Avenue Strip and make it a more appealing and pedestrian-friendly gateway to the university and the downtown were underway.

Closer in, the World’s Fair Park properties owned by the city were sold or leased for redevelopment, and construction of condominiums at the Candy Factory were well underway.

Out yonder, near and in the Town of Farragut, the inexorable expansion of the Turkey Creek retail behemoth affirmed its claim to be the hottest commercial property in the Southeast, and ground was being moved around to make way for the Northshore Village, a new urbanist residential/retail/office complex along Pellissippi Parkway at Northshore Drive. Even Fountain City showed signs of commercial gentrification along Broadway, where a village-concept shopping plaza replaced a strip mall and such upscale stores as Panera Bread and Marble Slab opened across the street just south of that picturesque plaza.

The University of Tennessee got its own incipient building boom expanded to include a new business administration building and another residence hall, with talk of increasing the student population of its Knoxville campus to 35,000, up 20 percent from current enrollment. A research center on the former agricultural land south of the Tennessee River was also being promoted.

South College opened its new campus along I-40 near I-640 with a beautiful neo-colonial façade presenting it to passersby. A new Hardin Valley High School to alleviate Bearden, West and Karns High Schools’ overcrowding was sited, but its design capacity was restricted by cost escalation and was still unsettled at year-end. 

The reconstruction of I-40 West through West Hills was virtually completed, and the complete redesign and rebuilding of I-40 downtown and its James White Parkway and Hall of Fame Drive links were well underway. The Gay Street Viaduct over the Norfolk Southern railyard was completed and reopened, and the Church Avenue Viaduct was closed for rebuilding. A site for the long-awaited Knoxville Transit Center was finally cast in concrete after many ill-starred attempts. It will be established at the east end of the Church Viaduct, to be opened sometime after that viaduct is restored.

The Market Square Farmers’ Market enjoyed a robust summer season, and the ice rink was restored on the Square this winter and proved immediately popular. A new skate park for skate boarders was located in Tyson Park but had to await the conclusion of Lady Vol softball season to be constructed.

The I-640 Industrial Park, formerly known as the Coster Shops, was certified for reuse and a solid proposal from a food service distributor was received for a substantial part of the vacant property.

KAT bus rider fares went up, but so did the transit company’s use of cleaner biofuels, and its route map grew a bit.

The TVA East Tower between Wall Avenue and Summit Hill remained empty and unsold, and though proposals keep popping up, the Knoxville signature World’s Fair symbol, the Sunsphere, was still closed.

And, despite more talk and proposals and threats and gestures of exasperation, the McClung Warehouses on Jackson Avenue and the 5th Avenue Motel on Broadway stood empty and open to the elements. Maybe some other year. Those eyesores will surely be cleaned up and rehabbed into useful structures some day. Such is the nature of Knoxville’s pace of progress as it heads into 2007.