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Ear to the Ground

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There's More Than One Way to Demolish a House

The battle of the 1893 DeArmond House has entered a strange new phase. Visible from Cumberland Ave., the elaborate blue mansion at Clinch and James Agee—recently regarded as the best-preserved wood-frame Victorian house in Fort Sanders—has sat empty with some of its windows open for several months. It's still there. But sometime during the holidays the large trees in its yard vanished, along with its brick chimney; in its place is a gaping vertical hole, completely uncovered, that leaves much of the elaborate interior open to the snow and rain. Landowner Robert Shagan, who has demolished several other Victorian houses in Fort Sanders, opposes the Fort's NC-1 designation, City Council's unanimous initiative to save what remains of Knoxville's most historic neighborhood.

Shagan's representatives claim that he intends to move the DeArmond House into an empty slot across the street, where he tore down another house some years ago. It's a complicated and risky process at best. However, with work apparently under way, Shagan has not applied for the necessary permits to do it. The city has issued a stop-work order, as a group of concerned citizens are gathering funds to protect the interior with a tarp.

Because We Don't Want To, That's Why

The University of Tennessee is making quite a name for itself when it comes to urban planning and design, but you wouldn't know it by viewing the landscape from its home campus in Knoxville. UT is opening another urban design center in, of all places, Nashville—where it doesn't even have a campus.

The center is a joint venture with Vanderbilt University (which is handling the administrative end of things) and Nashville's metro government, which is providing a lot of cash and, more importantly (under new Mayor Bill Purcell), seems actually interested in what the center can provide the city. The center will act as a mediation center for people with concerns about neighborhoods and urban design, it will test and fine-tune policies and codes, and identify development potential, according to UT architecture prof Mark Schimmenti, who will be the new center's director of designs. The last duty could involve coming up with projects the center would like to see built, and the city would shop for a developer to construct it.

The center will hire seven to eight student interns, about half of whom will come from UT, the rest from schools around the country. "I think UT students would benefit from some cross-pollination," says Schimmenti (who will maintain his residence on Gay Street, even as he shuttles back and forth to Music City). "Plus, we'll get the word out that there's good design work going on at UT."

Indeed, there is. It's the third design center opened by the university. The first, in Chattanooga, was the result of the hard work and persistence of one man—UT faculty member Stroud Watson. The second, opened by Schimmenti in Knoxville's Market Square, closed after about a year because of lack of funds—neither the university nor the city would support it financially.

So, why can't Knoxville—the home of UT's college of architecture, not to mention ill-coordinated but very expensive plans for downtown development—get its own design center? That would take a bit of political and cooperation the city can't seem to muster. Mayor Victor Ashe wrote on the K2K email forum that he "deeply regret[s]" the closure of the Knoxville center, "....but the city does not have the funds to open one. [W]e would support one being implemented by UT or another group."

Thanks, We Think

Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes, was waxing weird when he got around to our town in his column on the downturn in the Dec. 25 issue of the magazine. Predicting the shakeout will keep on shaking for a couple of quarters, Karlgaard issued a bunch of survival suggestions for cyber-business owners/managers. Along with the cost-cutting and attention-grabbing tips was the notion that one can save on rent by pulling up stakes and moving out of the $100-to-$200 per square foot, per year Silicon Valley and into the soup, so to speak. He picked Cincinnati as one lower-rent digital haven, then suggested: "Try a university town in the heartland, such as Lawrence, Kas.; or Knoxville, Tenn.; or St. Paul, Minn. Good young engineers and software writers can be had [there] for $30K, plus options. Rent goes for $5 a year. When cash is king, you can't beat it." OK, Rich, but what kind of "university town" is St. Paul, and where are you getting your rent figures? Chamber types here say $5-a-foot space would be pretty raw and certainly lacking in digital infrastructure. That's not to mention that Lawrence is...well...Lawrence.

January 4, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 1
© 2001 Metro Pulse