Front Page

The 'Zine

Sunsphere City

Bonus Track

Market Square

Contact us!
About the site

Secret History

on this story

Seven Days

Wednesday, Feb. 28
A study of social attitudes in communities across the country shows East Tennesseans are more likely to go to church than the rest of America, and less likely to trust their co-workers. Hmm. Guess "Love Thy Neighbor" doesn't extend to cubicles.
The state House of Representatives delays a vote to add the words, "In God We Trust" to the state flag. Wait, is He a co-worker too?

Thursday, March 1
Survivor survivor Tina Wesson visits Gresham Middle School (which her children attend) to talk about her experiences on the TV show. With the county budget right around the corner, maybe she could give schools Superintendent Charles Lindsey some tips.

Friday, March 2
Blasting by construction crews working on TDOT's widening of I-40 through West Knoxville showers two housing complexes with rocks and debris. Now, see, this sort of thing wouldn't be such a concern if people would just stay in their cars where they belong.

Monday, March 5
The state House of Representatives passes a bill allowing check-loan businesses to charge bad-check fees on top of the triple-digit interest rates they already assess to their low-income customers. Reports said check-loan industry lobbyists donated almost $250,000 to legislators and Gov. Don Sundquist over the past five years. Presumably, those checks all cleared.

Tuesday, March 6
Things that need no further comment—U.S. District Judge James Jarvis reprimands a 23-year-old drug defendant for becoming pregnant with a sixth child while facing a prison term. The defendant's given name: Chastity.

Knoxville Found

(Click photo for larger image)

What is this? Every week in "Knoxville Found," we'll print the photo of a local curiosity. If you're the first person to correctly identify this oddity, you'll win a special prize plucked from the desk of the editor (keep in mind that the editor hasn't cleaned his desk in five years). E-mail your guesses, or send 'em to "Knoxville Found" c/o Metro Pulse, 505 Market St., Suite 300, Knoxville, TN 37902.

Last Week's Photo:
Yep, lots of folks knew this one. This marble gateway stands on the corner of Gay and Main, in front of the old Knox County Courthouse. It honors "Our Beloved Physician," Dr. John Mason Boyd. Son of a prominent judge and mayor, Boyd was partly raised in Blount Mansion, around the corner. He attended UT's predecessor and studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Back in Knoxville in 1857, the year he graduated, he assisted in what was allegedly one of the first successful supervaginal hysterectomies in medical history. When the war came, he served the Confederate Army (where there wasn't much call for hysterectomies). For a half-century after the war, Dr. Boyd was probably Knoxville's best-regarded physician. He co-founded the Knoxville Board of Health, helped establish the mental hospital on Lyons View, and was first chief of staff at Knoxville General Hospital. A man of many talents, Dr. Boyd was also chief of the volunteer fire department, an influential member of the very first Board of Education, and a well-known tenor. He died in 1909 at age 75. The gateway, "ERECTED BY A GRATEFUL PUBLIC," was the idea of a group of female admirers. It's still a handy refuge on a rainy day. And that may be why David Haley Lauver was so quick to I.D. it. Of the many correct responses we got (including one emailed in from Atlanta), his was the first. He wins a new paperback copy of gonzo screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' Clinton-Lewinsky ponderance American Rhapsody.

Meet Your City
A calendar of upcoming public meetings you should attend

1:30 P.M.
MPC is scheduled to consider a TC-1 (that's for "town center") zoning designation for downtown in place of the previously-offered C-8 urban zoning.

5 P.M.
For information and input on the new Renaissance Knoxville proposal for downtown redevelopment. If you want a chance to talk, sign up before the meeting or call Ruth Kuhlman in the city's public affairs office at 215-2065.

6:30 P.M.
Members of the neighborhood advisory councils for Knoxville's Empowerment Zone funding will elect a member from faith-based organizations to the board of each Zone Advisory Council. For more information call Bob Booker at 522-5935.


Squaring Off

Landowners make counter-proposals for Market Square

In its long history, Market Square has never been on so many different drawing boards. An anchor of the Worsham Watkins Renaissance Knoxville proposal, it's now the subject of a development counterproposal, submitted by the owners of the Square. This week the Market Square Association, an organization of landowners, businesses, and residents on the Square, proposed a new version of the city's original plan to free the Square of do-nothing landlords—passed by City Council over three years ago but never enforced—prospectively enhanced by two new layers of zoning, one commercial, one historic.

Historic overlay zoning for Market Square might seem like a cinch. No one doubts that Market Square is historic, and most of its landowners seem to want the H-1 designation, which offers historic buildings a level of protection from demolition or out-of-character alterations.

Founded in 1853, Market Square's history is actually longer and more eventful than that of any other neighborhood that does have such protective zoning. Except for some churches and graveyards, no spot in the city has been used for the same purpose for a longer time, and its motley mix of Victorian and early 20th-century buildings can still turn heads.

The timing of the H-1 initiative has raised suspicions that it's a strategic move to head the Worsham Watkins redevelopment proposal off at the pass. Three weeks ago on K2K's internet forum, Public Building Authority chief Dale Smith dismissed H-1 as "just a defensive move. It will do nothing to redevelop anything."

The remark frustrated several, who insist historic zoning for Market Square has been in the works for years. Some even hold that its lack of historic zoning has contributed to the Square's decline, attracting speculators who had little regard for its architecture, history, or even basic maintenance.

Metropolitan Planning Commission senior planner Ann Bennett says she first looked into it in 1984, during the successful push to get Market Square status in the National Register of Historic Places. H-1 zoning requires owner participation, though, and she says the Square's owners during that "Market Square Mall" era were cool toward historic preservation. "At that time, there were a good many absentee owners and leaseholders," Bennett says, "and they were just not that concerned about it."

However, the makeup of Market Square ownership has changed in recent years, with owners—some of them even owner-residents—taking an interest in the history and condition of their buildings. Finally, Bennett says, a clear majority of Market Square landowners do want historic-overlay protection.

Prominent among them is Andie Ray, who bought a Victorian building on the Square in 1999 to develop as a dress shop and residence, back when the city's only redevelopment plan called for renovating the Square with owner participation. A board member of Knox Heritage, Ray says she began looking into the prospect of historic zoning before Worsham Watkins unveiled its surprising plans. "It's insane that it's not zoned historic already," Ray says. "It should have been one of the first when historic zoning came into existence. It's a shame that we're just now turning this around, to protect the single most identified feature of our downtown."

"We've been working on this current iteration since eight or nine months ago," says Bennett. When Ray and others approached her with a new H-1 proposal, Fort Sanders was in the line of fire, and Bennett had her hands full preparing the case for NC-1 zoning for that neighborhood.

She's only been able to give the Market Square H-1 proposal her full attention in recent weeks. "I've been working on a set of design guidelines, and have them almost complete."

Bennett says H-1 offers responsible developers nothing to fear. "It gives developers a way to achieve some assurance that what will happen to the buildings will be consistent with the Square, without forcing them to take total control. That's an advantage." She says the design guidelines demanded by H-1 overlay are similar to the guidelines by which businesses can enjoy a 20 percent tax credit under the auspices of the National Register of Historic Places. (Market Square's Register status offers no protection; through tax credits, historic-register status is purely an incentive.)

Bennett says H-1 zoning makes few demands about the interior of buildings; passageways could be opened between buildings, as long as it leaves a "memory" of where the walls were, in the form of columns or doors—which, she says, is usually just good engineering. H-1 calls for the Historic Zoning Commission to OK construction projects with a certificate of appropriateness; the HZC is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council.

PBA's Smith, recently adamant in his objection to any historic zoning for the Square before the development commences, admits he hasn't studied the proposal carefully. "I can't see cramming it by because it looks good on paper," he says. H-1, he says, "worries me, because of what I don't know about the redevelopment plan. My sense is that you have to look at a redevelopment plan and look at whether they were in conflict."

If the overlay has damning flaws, he fears that it may be months or years before they're discovered. He brings up an example of a Gay Street residential development project already in the works. "For example, could [H-1] stop the Sterchi project in its tracks?"

"I don't know that I would precede it" with a historic overlay, he says, adding that he would consider instituting H-1 afterward, or even on a "parallel" basis. "It's not whether we do it, but how well we vet it out." He discussed the subject with Bennett last week.

Ray is frustrated that PBA and, by implication, the developers, are reluctant to go along with H-1. "They want us and the public to give up all control," she says. "But they won't accept any semblance of restriction on what they do."

"Market Square needs a watchdog," she adds.

She has collected pro-H-1 signatures representing 23 of the 40 parcels of property on the Square; of the remaining 17, some are landowners she hasn't heard back from yet.

Bennett says the H-1 plan wouldn't necessarily conflict with any of the tenets of the Renaissance Knoxville plan.

Meanwhile, the Market Square Association, with the help of the MPC, is also proposing a new commercial/residential designation called the "Town Center Zoning District." Comparing the measure to the C-7 district which already governs Cumberland Avenue, the new district would restrict building heights and signage, guided by a board of property owners.

The MSA plan as revealed this week seems a combination of that designation, historic overlay zoning, and a resurrection of the city's anti-deadbeat-landlord plan passed three years ago by City Council. The MSA holds that their three-pronged plan is more fair to the several Market Square owners who have indeed done good work with their buildings, and, as it doesn't depend on one single organizer or theory of future visitation, that it will be more sustainable in the long run; and that, to the taxpayers, it may turn out to be much cheaper.

None of this will be resolved at the mayor's hearing tonight, of course, but the circling plans are sure to prompt some lively discussion.

—Jack Neely

Prime Corner Emptying Out

Home Federal says it has no plans once tenants are gone next year.

All of the upper-floor windows of the five-story Victorian-era building on the corner of the 400 block of Union Avenue at Walnut Street have been boarded up for years, except for a single second-story window that has a faded old sign advertising a long-gone jewelry shop. But the ground floors of that building and the one next to it are almost fully occupied, with Pete's Coffee Shop, the Union Avenue Barber Shop, Reruns consignment store, Big Orange Cleaners, the ABC loan company, and a shoe repair shop doing regular business throughout the week.

By next spring, though, those ground floor businesses will also be gone. Home Federal bank, which owns the two buildings, has asked the tenants to get out by March of next year. Bank officials say they have no plans for the buildings after the current tenants leave, but demolition seems likely.

"Their condition continued to deteriorate, and we never planned to spend a bunch of money on them," says Home Federal chairman David Sharp. Home Federal bought the two buildings in 1991, along with the adjacent Grand Union building, where the bank has offices now. "Our administrative manager and one of our maintenance people met with me two weeks ago, and said it was time to spend some money on those buildings or move people out...The bricks are crumbling, and we've patched them up and patched them up and patched them up. We don't want a brick to fall off and kill somebody."

Both Sharp and bank vice president Debra Smith say that Home Federal has no definite plans for the properties, not even for demolition. But Sharp says there's no chance that the bank will sell the properties after moving its tenants out, and the bank has apparently never considered the cost of restoring the buildings. "Oh lord, you'd be better off to tear them down and build new buildings," Sharp says.

When asked how much renovations might cost, Smith says the committee that made the final decision to move the businesses out "didn't look at it from that standpoint."

Sharp and Smith also deny that the move is linked to the Worsham Watkins proposal for downtown redevelopment, even though Union Avenue is a central corridor of the WW proposal.

Leslie Henderson, director of development for the city, says the city will help relocate some of the businesses. The city's new parking garage on Union and Walnut has available retail storefronts for lease that may be suitable for the barber shop or shoe repair business, Henderson says.

Pete Natour, the owner of Pete's Coffee Shop, says he's known since Home Federal bought the buildings that he would have to move out eventually. But he says he expected to have a few more years in the old building. The WW proposal includes a 150-unit apartment building with ground-floor retail space across the street from Pete's current site, and Natour says he would be interested in a spot there. "But it won't be ready a year from now, if they've even started on it," he says.

Lynn Carter, a barber at the Union Avenue Barber Shop, jokes that he hopes customers will line up in front of the shop when—and if—the wrecking ball comes. "We'll be over on the other side of the street trying to negotiate something," he says. "We hope you guys will hold tight over here."

—Matthew T. Everett

March 8, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 10
© 2001 Metro Pulse