Knoxville's Downtown North

The Challenge

Knoxville has seen significant revitalization and reinvestment in its downtown core in recent years, and in Victorian-era neighborhoods north of downtown – most notably Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville. But the two main commercial corridors between downtown and those neighborhoods had suffered through decades of disinvestment. Neighborhood groups were concerned about the lack of commercial activity, a concentration of social service agencies, homelessness and fears of street crime.

The Approach

In 2006, the City convened a task force including representatives from the neighborhoods, local merchants and property owners, and social service agencies. A series of public meetings moved the discussion from frustration and finger-pointing to concrete proposals for public improvements. The sector around the intersection of the two main avenues, Broadway and Central Street, was rechristened Downtown North and designated as a redevelopment area, which allowed the City to use tax-increment financing and other development incentives to spur private investment. The City committed to major infrastructure improvements to the streets and streetscapes, including the addition of dedicated bicycle lanes. Façade grants through the City’s Department of Community Development leveraged private investment in buildings throughout the area, and assisted with the relocation and expansion of Knoxville’s food co-op, Three Rivers Market.

The new grocery store, which opened in 2011, is now the center of a rapidly redeveloping area that has seen new restaurants, shops and other businesses open in recent years. An area of Downtown North traditionally known as Happy Holler has developed a new cachet, and hosts an annual street fair called Hollerpalooza. Home prices are rising in the adjacent neighborhoods. The City is now pursuing a similar strategy of infrastructure improvement and façade grants to encourage redevelopment along other distressed corridors.

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