Less is More
I've heard this mentioned over and over again in countless discussions on reviving downtown Knoxville and again in this week's Citybeat. Allusions to the city needing to improve the downtown parking situation. Frankly, this scares me.
My fear is this: That the general consensus is that downtown needs more parking lots. This is a scary idea that needs to be laid to rest. Let me say this loud and clear: Downtown Knoxville already has too many &*@%$$# parking lots!
Parking lots create dead space. In a downtown district that is already severely lacking in foot traffic, the last thing we need is more dead space. What downtown needs is retail, restaurants, bars and residential development to fill the space in between all the *$& #@! parking lots.
The reason most people think there isn't enough parking is because there is little or nothing near the parking lots. Trust me, the walk between, for instance, the parking lots at State and Union and the Tennessee Theatre would seem much shorter if there were some signs of life between the two. Right now, due to the lack of open businesses and thus, a lack of foot traffic, this seems like a long and uncomfortable walk. Add in some funky shops, restaurants, bars and residences and suddenly this is a much more interesting and, seemingly, shorter walk. Throw in more parking lots and you now have more dead space making downtown seem even more lifeless.
We don't need a big tourist attraction. At least not until there's a good base of other businesses up and thriving downtown because bringing tourists into a dead-feeling downtown will create poor word-of-mouth advertising. Once we have a good base of other stuff to do and a lively downtown then a big tourist attraction is an excellent idea.
We don't need a mall downtown. We already have West Town and Knoxville Center. Without something more unique, people will come in for the big grand opening, come back in droves for the first few months, then go back to West Town and Knoxville Center once the novelty wears off, and once that starts to happen, profits will start to fall off and the kind of generic McBusinesses that thrive in malls will stop renewing their leases.
We don't need more office space downtown. Office space is a great part of a healthy downtown mix but right now downtown Knoxville has more office space than anything else. Offices tend to close after 5 p.m. and on weekends, leaving the feeling that the city has suddenly become lifeless. And we certainly don't need any more parking lots creating even more dead space!
We do need funky little shops. Primarily local, unique shops that you can't find in a mall. Those kinds of businesses draw people in during the mid-morning-early evening hours, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when downtown is presently very dead.
We also need local, unique restaurants for much the same reasons we need shops. Yes, we also need bars. For whatever reason our city officials don't seem to like this fact, but bars provide much-needed after-dark foot traffic, and foot traffic goes a long way toward creating a feeling of safety on the streets.
And last, but certainly not least, we need residences. The aforementioned shops, restaurants and bars will thrive especially if they have a good bunch of people who need only walk a few blocks to patronize these businesses.
Arthur B. Carmichael III