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I-40 Eats Neighborhood

TDOT decides to raze eight more homes in Westwood

by Joe Tarr

The expansion of Interstate 40 just got a little worse for Westwood. Already expected to be heavily affected by the increase in traffic and noise and the loss of trees and greenspace, neighbors were informed by TDOT officials this week that even more of the neighborhood would be taken for the project.

The expanded I-40 will be shifting closer to Westwood, and at least eight more homes are now scheduled to be razed, including six on Pinellas, two on Bearden, and perhaps one on Westover, according to Joni Caldwell, who lives on Pinellas, across from the targeted houses.

Caldwell says TDOT officials told her the plans were redrawn because the soil could not support the retaining wall for the eastbound on-ramp of I-40. Residents found out about the changes by accident, and then asked TDOT for a look. However, TDOT head planner Bill Moore says the plans had to be redone because an office building on the north side of the interstate had been built since the designs were first drawn. It would cost $14 million to remove the building. "We can't afford that," Moore says.

Caldwell says TDOT engineers also have failed to address safety issues—the off ramps at the rebuild Papermill Drive interchange are too sharp to be negotiated safely.

"We feel like they're maneuvering, maneuvering and not paying attention to what anyone is saying," Caldwell says.

But Moore disagreed. "It's not true. They're concerned about noise, and we're doing our noise studies. This [redesign] in fact might even help their chances for noise abatement."

Cheryl St. Germain—whose 4-year-old house is one of the ones slated to be razed—was shocked by the news.

"They don't take into consideration that there's a family living in the square on the piece of paper they've just drawn their highway over," Germain says. "I feel sorry for the people across the street who will be staying because the interstate's going to be right out their front door.

"They didn't even let anybody know they were even considering making this change. We just sort of found out about it by accident," she says. "They've been very cold hearted about the whole thing. No one has ever contacted me from TDOT... I'm just a square on the piece of paper as far as they're concerned."


Deco Dilemma

Can the S&W survive the county's caretaking?

by Matthew T. Everett

Last year, Knox County Commission spent $12 million to buy and prepare property on State Street and on the 500 block of Gay Street, including the historic S&W Cafeteria building, for construction of its proposed justice center and an adjoining parking lot. Now that the county has dropped its plans for the justice center in favor of expanding its existing facilities, questions remain over the future of these properties. Will the State Street lot remain a gouged eyesore, an empty block in an area that desperately needs tenants? Will the S&W building remain standing, or will the county simply level it for a parking lot?

For now, the county seems intent on holding on to the property as a possible last-gasp alternative to the expansion of the City County Building or the Detention Center. Until Knox County Executive Tommy Schumpert makes his final recommendation to the Construction Oversight Committee in August or September, "there could be some action to cause us to look at the State Street property," he says. "It's still a backstop in the event we can't do anything else."

Until then, Schumpert is convinced the property will be a good investment for the county. "I feel like it was a good decision based on the information at the time," he says, explaining that he expects the now-cleared property will be worth more if and when it is resold. "I believe we'll always be able to recoup the monies spent on acquisition and demolition of the property."

Tom Ingram, president of the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership, says the property could be a valuable complement to the Worsham-Watkins redevelopment plan supported by the city. "It's obviously a prime lot," Ingram says of the State Street property. "It's cleared and ready, which is no small thing."

Ingram adds that the property could be a solid anchor for a main corridor of redevelopment from the convention center on the World's Fair Park to State Street. "[That] makes things more viable for everything in between," Ingram says. "It could give energy to Gay Street and perhaps the Old City."

Unfortunately, Schumpert is less optimistic about the fate of the S&W building, which some architects say is Tennessee's finest example of Egyptian-deco architecture. Recent discussion on the K2K Internet discussion group has centered on the building and the possibility of turning it into a children's science museum, but Schumpert fears that the S&W may not last.

"In my mind, from a development standpoint, the building will be very hard to bring to code and use in the future," Schumpert says. "It's possible that demolition is probably less likely, but I'm still not sure someone could privately improve it and renovate it and use it."

May 18, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 20
© 2000 Metro Pulse