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Gathering millions in royalties for Titanic, the weird little business on Market Square seemed a sure thing, especially on the local level. The CyberFlix example spawned a whole new way of looking at 145-year-old Market Square. Folded in with an attempt to force out do-nothing landlords, Mayor Ashe proposed wiring Market Square for high-tech companies and transform the space into a breeding ground for more CyberFlixes.
One target of the initiative, the elderly Turkish landlord Frank Gencay, wrote a letter to City Council declaring this new company was full of drug addicts who could not be trusted.
Though easygoing in his walks around the Square, professing a love for downtown Knoxville, Appleton became increasingly fastidious about polishing Market Square's rough edges. To him that meant running off the lunchtime street preacher, closing the liquor store, and ceasing weekly meals for the homeless. All were downtown institutions of long standing. All are common in most American cities. But all three, Appleton thought, were impediments to making the Square an ideal business environment for CyberFlix.
What he wanted, he said, was more upscale life downtown, both to keep "my people" entertained and to impress business guests from Disney and elsewhere. He thought other small, young, high-tech companies would spawn and support restaurants, nightclubs, and shops that would energize downtown. He was especially frustrated that the city's Big Steps initiatives, especially concerning the Convention Center, had put a wait-and-see hold on Market Square. "Why is anybody gonna try to buy buildings, renovate buildings, when this new plan is hanging over everybody's head and threatens to change the whole situation?" Appleton said to Metro Pulse in late 1997.
Appleton may have been naive about his ability to make a difference. "He suddenly got this idea that he could be a power in Market Square," Hume says. "But he knew nothing about city government. He didn't even know where city government was. I had to tell him, Bill, there's this City-County Building, down at the end of Market Street."
As it turned out, he didn't have to walk that far. On Nov. 21, 1997, City Council met in crowded special session in a vacant restaurant just across from CyberFlix, and passed a sweeping initiative that would spur landowners to renovate their spaces, with high-tech fittings, or give them up. Appleton himself was the star of the show. Invited to speak, he heralded "a new beginning for Market Square."
"We will move forward on this as quickly as humanly possible," Mayor Ashe said. The Council's action got loud applause.
After the meeting, CyberFlix hosted a reception for City Council and the media. Mayor Ashe began citing the CyberFlix phenomenon on Sunday talk shows as evidence of the dynamism of downtown.