A business park, an inner city bank, a computer network, a working farmthese are the first things Knoxville will see as the empowerment zone program gets under way.
As part of the city's EZ application, the team drawing it up had to identify projects for the first two years' worth of funding. Here's a look at some of the major efforts proposed.
Development of the Center City Business Park
This business park near Mechanicsville was first proposed in the city's 1994 empowerment zone application. Work has already started in developing some of the property, but the EZ plan calls for $4.5 million over the next two years to "acquire and/or assemble" 50 sites in the 150 acres designated for the park. Officials say businesses are interested in coming to the area but have been frustrated by a lack of available land. The business park stretches out along and beneath I-40 from the I-275 junction west to Proctor Road.
Commercial development around Hope VI
The plan calls for developing two sites adjacent to Hope VI, the new public housing that's replacing the now-razed College Homes. A four-acre tract is supposed to be home to a 35,000-square-foot supermarket, with a one-acre tract housing other stores. The plan proposes $575,000 to buy the land, anticipating $2.6 million in private investment to actually develop it.
A Housing Resource Center
The center is supposed to help homeowners repair, modify, and maintain their houses. Among other things, it will provide loans and funds for emergency repairs and training in DIY home maintenance. The proposed budget for the first two years is $600,000.
Empowerment Bank Investment Shop
The bank will be a professionally staffed center for a range of small business services, from credit counseling to providing direct loans of up to $50,000 to entrepreneurs. The proposed first-year budget is about $1.3 million.
The Inner Net computer network
The Community Design Center will establish eight computer centers throughout the zone where residents can come for computer training and Internet access. It will also bring together a board of "mentors"18 lawyers, bankers, and business peoplewho will be available online to provide guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs. The proposed budget for the first two years is $375,000.
An urban farm
Also planned for the border of the Hope VI project is a seven-acre working farm to be overseen by professional gardeners working under the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee. Especially targeted at young residents, the farm will allow participants to plant and harvest a whole range of produce (and also manage a set of bee hives). They'll sell the food at farmer's markets to be established within the empowerment zone. The first two years' budget is estimated at $225,000.
Other proposed programs include improving rental housing, expanding current job training programs, parent coaching for first-time mothers, and expanding magnet programs in the Knox County schools to bring in more community involvement.