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Interning an Intern

The clock is running on this year's General Assembly, and there are certain formalities that must be observed. One is the custom of members standing up and lavishing praise on the college interns they've been assigned for the year. The kids stand in the back of the chamber and grin while their bosses enumerate their outstanding qualities and predict great futures for them. This year, Tim Burchett, the state senator who is known for marching to a beat uniquely his own, took a different angle, which he explains thusly:

"My guy was enjoying two weeks in the Bahamas as a reward for making Cs in college and not going to jail this year, so he didn't get to hear what I said, which was this:

'I'm glad my intern isn't around to hear this, because in my 7 years here, he is without a doubt the worst intern I have ever had. It's also good he's not here because he'll probably end up president of a Fortune 500 company and I'll be asking him for a job—or a campaign donation.'

"The other interns were all giving me high fives on the way out," Burchett says.

Quit Carping, Mike

Ahh, pity the poor spin-doctor, whose fate it is to explain and justify the acts of those over whom he has no control. Far be it from Ear to deny them their fun—like when PBA flack Mike Cohen found himself 'splaining, before TV cameras, why there was a dry lake full of stranded and dying fish at the convention center construction site last week when workers drained the lake formerly known as the Waters of the World. Playing on the Latin phrase "Carpe Diem" ("seize the day"), Cohen's office door was adorned a sign that said "Carpe de Carp."

Cash from Carlene

The Historic Market Square Association has been pointing for some time toward retaining a planning consultant to help formulate a home-grown alternative to the grand designs for the square of developers like Memphis-based John Elkington. One hitch, however, is that the HMSers don't have any money to pay for the consultant. Now cometh Councilwoman Carlene Malone to their aid with a proposed $20,000 allocation from the $40,000 a year in discretionary funds that Council members can each spend pretty much as they see fit. It's not yet clear how far that would go toward covering the tab of the firms in Maryland and Michigan with whom the HMSers have been talking. But at least some of the square's property owners, spearheaded by Susan Key, remain resolved to submit a proposal for shaping their own destiny in regard to the RFP (request for proposal) process that Mayor Victor Ashe recommended last week.

Dear Melissa

The recall movement is moving to the courtroom, and Mayor Victor Ashe is moving into full-frontal battle mode like a Panzer through Poland, calling out appropriately-attired troops for the last week's Election Commission meeting. The Ashe supporters, who consisted primarily of city employees and elderly Ashe appointees, were decked out in Ashe buttons, hats and T-shirts, and greatly outnumbered the KnoxRecall activists present. One Ashe-ite, Bobbi Christenberry, proposed to read into the minutes a letter she has written to Melissa Mayfield deploring KnoxRecall's "latching on" to the fact that City Council did not appoint her to fill the Council seat vacated by the death of her husband, Danny Mayfield. Christenberry's view is that "these people" have besmirched Councilman Mayfield's memory, and she commiserates with the widow for being so egregiously used.

Christenberry evidently missed the story in the daily paper when Melissa Mayfield signed the recall petitions and endorsed the effort.

He Met the Enemy

We hear that downtown's current renovation project commenced a few months ago, when an unnamed Knox County commissioner was taking an apparently unaccustomed walk down Gay Street with Chamber Partnership head Tom Ingram. Shaking his head scornfully, the commissioner happened to comment that the buildings on one particular block looked especially run-down. "Who owns them?" the politician demanded. "Why, you do," Ingram answered.

The buildings were part of the east side of the 500 block of Gay Street which, a few years ago, was evacuated, condemned, and slated for demolition by Knox County Commission's ill-starred Justice Center project.

After the Justice Center plan was scotched, some county commissioners discussed tearing down the lot of them anyway for surface parking. That's why many were surprised, a couple of weeks ago, when it wasn't a wrecking ball but renovation crews who showed up and began work fixing up the buildings and painting them in bright colors; they already look better than they have in some decades. It's all a CBID-inspired, Knox County-funded, $50,000-plus facade renovation job, along with some significant structural repair to one of the buildings.

Among the once-condemned, now exalted buildings are a couple of Victorian commercial buildings, including the WROL studio where Roy Acuff began his radio career; the much-beloved 1930s art-deco S&W cafeteria; and the circa 1940 drugstore that played a central role in the Civil Rights sit-ins of 1960.

It's not clear when, or if, the buildings will be available for lease, but the facade improvements, conducted by architects Ross/Fowler and contractors Johnson & Galyon, are expected to be finished by the end of the month. The CBID and the Chamber Partnership are pursuing tenants for the buildings.

It all looks great. The only thing missing is the old broken "Where Smart Knoxville Buys" sign, which dated at least to the '30s. Who got it?

Asphalt, For That 20th-Century Look

Things weren't looking quite so copacetic this week in the Old City. "Bricklined streets" is one of the phrases you see in tour books describing Knoxville's pedestrian nightlife destination, which, contrary to suburban prejudices, still draws thousands each week. But when KUB workers tore up large swaths of the district's trademark brick streets Tuesday to do some utility work, they replaced them with plain asphalt, which angered some Old Citizens. Though the brick's still in place on the ramps leading up to Gay Street, about half the brick in the intersection of Central and Jackson is gone, and it frankly looks pretty patchy.

Allen Halcomb, president of MossCreek Designs on Central, said he called KUB to complain and did not hear back from them, but later the same day received notice of a public meeting called by the city for Friday, June 8 at 8:30 a.m. at the Jackson-Central intersection to discuss "long-term repair work needed" at the intersection.

June 7, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 23
© 2001 Metro Pulse