Q&A: Debbie Roberts, chair of the City People Downtown Home Tour

Debbie Roberts is chair of the City People Downtown Home Tour happening Sunday, Oct. 9, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and resides in the Holston on Gay Street with her husband, Dash Roberts. Through City People, residents, business people, elected officials, preservationists, activists, and artists work to address issues concerning Knoxville's center city.

Has it only been recently that there have been enough downtown condos to do a tour?

No, actually, City People has been doing home tours every two years since 1983, and we started doing it every year in 2010. The year I was first involved, 2007, it seems like we started getting better variety because there were more people moving downtown to live. We're doing nine condos and lofts this year, one each in the Holston Building, the YMCA, the Pembroke, the Residences at Market Square, Ryan's Row, Sterchi Lofts, Fire Street Lofts, the Jacksonian Condos on Jackson, and Westmoreland Commons on Central in the Old City.

How did you choose?

We stay inside the area from Henley to James White and I-40 to the river—basically the Central Business Improvement District. Then we select people we think might like to do it, and we also try to use different buildings than we have the year before. There are more looks available than there once were. The ones in the Holston, for example, are finished, while some others on display are just lofts. I haven't been in all of them, but some are built more traditional, with sheetrock and baseboards and that sort of thing. But the Sterchi has cement floors and you see everything—mechanical and electrical.

How did you get involved in City People?

We live in the Holston, and became involved when we moved here in 2007. Dash and I are both retired, and we moved here from outside Atlanta. We joined City People because we wanted to meet those who lived, worked, and played downtown.

Where do you play downtown?

We love Market Square and enjoy the theaters. We're real big UT fans and love being able to walk from home to games and theaters.

How come you're UT fans if you're from Atlanta?

We both graduated UT, and came back. We'd visited before, but hadn't lived here since we graduated.

How does the tour work?

You check in at East Tennessee Community Design Center [1300 N. Broadway] and receive a brochure and a booklet to follow. You can walk to the condos, and most people like to do that, but we also have a bus that we're using—Chariots of Hire has worked with us on it—that will do a route through the condos. There are volunteers at every condo.

So you don't have to worry about surprising the owners?

The hosts will be at each condo part of the time, but they also go on the tour so a volunteer will take over.

What happens with the money you raise?

It goes to grants we provide to groups downtown like James White Fort or Holidays on Ice. This year we did the Art Market at Dogwood Arts Festival. Other non-profits can ask for money—we take applications and we vote on them for events downtown.

For more information or to purchase advance $10 tickets: citypeople.org/store.