It didn't always take us where we wanted to go. But it brought us to Knoxville's Time.
It's not just another year headed for the dustbin of history around here. The developments of 2003 were memorable to all Knoxvillians. They won't have Victor Ashe to kick around anymore. Not for a while. When Bill Haslam was inaugurated last Saturday, it was the first day in many young Knoxvillians' memories that the city wasn't under Victor's broad thumb. Things, they are a'changin', and not just at city hall.
The year saw the first change in Metro Pulse ownership in more than 10 years, as publishing icon Joe Sullivan sold to Brian Conley. Though Joe stays on as editor-in-chief and continues to write for the paper, a new regime is in place. And it's not just standing in place. Look for growth and improvement in our whole publication in 2004.
Knoxville itself is perched on the cusp of a whole new way of looking at its image. Downtown properties are in a round of resurgence, a new library and children's museum are in the works, and the mood of locally based retailers is expansive.
But before we get going forward too fast, let's take one last look back. Here's how we at Metro Pulse recap the past year:
A Classy Race for Mayor
At first blush, the contest to succeed Victor Ashe as Knoxville's mayor seemed to pit the city's business establishment against a populist champion of ordinary folks. The establishment candidate, Bill Haslam, entered the fray known mainly as a member of the family whose name is synonymous with wealth and influence. His opponent, Madeline Rogero, came up from the ranks of neighborhood organizations to serve on County Commission and then head a non-profit organization devoted to the needs of disadvantaged kids.
But Haslam managed to mute the class warfare overtones by demonstrating a common touch in reaching out to all sections of the city in a campaign that matched Rogero's for its grass-rootsiness. His $580,000 campaign war chest enabled him to outspend her by more than three to one. And Rogero may have wasted some of her limited campaign funds with a TV spot depicting her as the president of Rogero Oil taking cues from her mogul mother "Big Jane" Rogero. The spoof on Haslam as the subservient son of Pilot Oil patriarch "Big Jim" Haslam was lost on many voters.
Still, Rogero's rallying cry that "too few people have been making too many decisions for too long" resonated well in many quarters. While Haslam swept the affluent western suburbs, Rogero kept the race close by carrying the new-urbanist and working-class neighborhoods of North and South Knoxville. What may have tipped the scales in Haslam's favor was his majorities in the predominantly black precincts of East Knoxville, where nearly every black elected official supported him.
Even in defeat, Rogero's candidacy clearly made a mark. Both in his plans for organizing city government and his key appointments, Haslam put a premium on attentiveness to neighborhood needs and inclusiveness in the city's decision making processes.
City Council's Four Freshmen
Along with choosing a new mayor, voters also picked four new City Council members to fill seats that had been swept clean by the term-limits broom.
The winners in these councilmanic contests were all in their early 40s, and all but one were seeking public office for the first time. In the only race that pitted a newcomer against a veteran, Chris Woodhull gained a surprisingly lopsided victory over former Council member Jean Teague who was attempting a comeback after having been term-limited out of office in 2001.
Beyond their relative youth and the vigor of their campaigns, it's hard to find a common denominator among the winners. Two of them, Marilyn Roddy and Joe Bailey, live in Sequoyah Hills and were backed by the same establishment forces that formed the base of Bill Haslam's support for mayor. But a Madeline Rogero ally, Bob Becker, won a resounding victory over his Haslam-backed opponent, Tim Wheeler, in a race between two residents of the Oakwood/Lincoln Park neighborhood. Woodhull, who lives in Mechanicsville, almost defies categorization beyond his claim to be a consensus builder, as manifested by the diversity of his backers.
With 75 percent of the vote, Roddy had the biggest victory margin of all. Both by force of personality and financial backing, she established herself early on as a prohibitive favoritethus deterring opposition. But a little-known 24-year-old, Mustafa Alsharif, did manage to get 25 percent of the vote against her.
Bailey, who had narrowly lost a 2001 bid for Council, also began the campaign with a huge head start despite being perceived in neighborhood circles as too cozy with developers. His 11th-hour opponent, lawyer Charles Thomas, espoused much the same views as Rogero and might have made it a much closer contest if he had gotten started sooner.
Becker benefited from the disclosure shortly before election day that Wheeler had falsified his address in prior-year voter registrations to maintain city residence at a time when he was actually living in the county. But early voting returns indicate that the personable, diligent Becker was already on his way to victory anyhow.
This year's four winners are just about as disparate as the five newcomers who were elected to Council in 2001, making that nine-member body the least cohesive it's been in many years. But bonding with new Mayor Haslam seems a likely process for at least a majority of its members.
Shumaker's Shenanigans Shake UT
To many, it was just plain scandalous that UT President John Shumaker would charge personal expenses to a university credit card and use its plane for personal trips. To others, it was tragic that the charismatic Shumaker, who seemed to hold great promise for leading the university to higher academic stature, could have stooped so low.
For a time, it appeared Shumaker might be able to weather the tempest created by initial media revelations of his travel and credit-card abuses. At the urging of Gov. Phil Bredesen, he reimbursed the university $24,600 to cover all flights to Birmingham, where he was personally involved with the University of Alabama at Birmingham's president, Carol Garrison, and to Louisville, where he was in the midst of a messy divorce settlement with his former wife, Lucy. Bredesen, who also serves as chairman of UT's board of trustees, then gave the embattled Shumaker a vote of confidence.
But the revelations just kept piling up, both as a result of an internal audit ordered by UT trustees and an ongoing media feeding frenzy.
It wasn't just that Shumaker ordered more than $300,000 in renovations and extravagances for the president's residence. It was that he staged them in a way that circumvented a requirement that any such outlay of more than $100,000 be approved by the state Building Commission.
It wasn't just that he entered into a $300,000 no-bid contract with a Washington lawyer, Charles Fishman, with whom Shumaker had a prior business association. It was that he portrayed the contract as being for legal services, on which no bids are required, when Fishman was actually acting as a promoter in attempting to establish a UT-run high school in China that came to naught.
By Aug. 8, Bredesen had had enough and demanded Shumaker's resignation. A $423,000 severance payment grated many. Still, it wasn't all that large in relation to the UT president's $735,000 annual compensation package under a five-year contract.
But the worst was yet to come. Auditors discovered that Shumaker had altered his calendar to cover up some of his trips, a potentially criminal offense. At their September meeting, trustees rescinded Shumaker's severance pay, and the question of whether to prosecute him is still pending.
The debacle left the trustees tarnished as well, especially coming as it did only two years after a steamy scandal brought down Shumaker's predecessor, J. Wade Gilley. In the search for a successor, character, not charisma, is the trustees' primary requisite.
In an unexpected move that provoked insinuations of cloak-and-dagger machinations from all sides and an unflattering feature story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UT Provost Loren Crabtree fired much-admired architecture-school Dean Marleen Davis. Though some faculty members resented Davis' management style and cost overruns, many professors noted that she brought the department to the degree of relative esteem that it enjoys. At year's end, the hoped-for reversal of the decision doesn't appear to be in the cards, but Davis remains a tenured UT professor of architecture.
Convention Center Hotel Flap
The city spared no expense to make its $162 million new convention center a classy place for gatherings of professional and trade organizations. But it overlooked the fact that delegates to such gatherings also want a classy place to stay. And the only hotel adjacent to the convention center is a Holiday Inn that's dèclassè.
When conventions didn't start coming to the newly built facility, Mayor Victor Ashe hatched plans for an $80 million new hotel just across Henley Street on a site being vacated by the state Supreme Court. The city proposed to cover $20 million of the cost (for the site and a garage) and selected locals Lawler-Wood as the developer of an amenity laden, 400-room Hyatt.
The city's hotel consultant claimed the new hotel would produce "a rising tide that would lift all boats." But the Holiday Inn and downtown's three other existing hotels didn't see it that way. They produced their own consultant's study showing that all of them would be hurt and at least one of them driven out of business.
At the same time, they launched a drive to get the 15,000 voter signatures needed on a petition to force a referendum on an ordinance prohibiting any city subsidy of a new hotel. When the petition drive succeeded, Ashe managed to forestall a referendum by getting City Council to adopt the ordinance on its owna tack that would allow Council to rescind it at some future date.
Meanwhile, the Holiday Inn's wheeler-dealer owner, Franklin Haney, had his own hand out for a $20 million subsidy, in the form of tax abatement, to cover the cost of renovating and enlarging his antiquated digs. He'd seen to it, of course, that the subsidy prohibition only applied to new hotels.
While Ashe had nothing but contempt for Haney, newly-elected Mayor Bill Haslam has said he's prepared to negotiate with all comers in hopes of coming up with something that will help staunch the convention center's $2.7 million operating deficit.
Bowled over by the ABC
An incredible number of bowlers came to town in a five-month period of 2003. From every state and several foreign countries, they arrived60,000 in total, many with family members or friends, to stay for a week or more at a time. They were the members of the American Bowling Congress who brought their annual convention to Knoxville for the first time since 1970.
When they ventured out of the Knoxville Convention Center, they blended in so well it was hard to tell they were here. But when they did show themselves, they spent a ton of money, and they were as nice a bunch of people as ever wandered our streets.
The ABC is talking about bringing its annual event back much sooner next time, rather than waiting another 30 years, and the bowlers couldn't be more welcome if they were giving away beer instead of buying it.... Oh, well, yes they could, but it's a nice figure of speech.
Change at the Pulse
Joe Sullivan, who made Metro Pulse what it is today in his 10 years as publisher, sold the paper to Brian Conley early this year. Joe stays on as editor-in-chief, maintaining his smoke-filled corner office and his Insights column, but the day-to-day operation of the paper is in the hands of Conley and his savvy sidekick and associate publisher, John Wright.
Those hustlers have shown why they've been successful as developers. The advertising volume is up, the page count has increased by more than a third, some features have been added, and the core remains the same familiar, fun and informative Metro Pulse you've come to know and love.
Joe wanted to ease away from his business responsibilities but keep reporting and writing, and Brian wanted to see the MP tradition preserved. Theirs was a match made at the southwest corner of Market Square, a place some of us think of as heaven.
The future of the paper is really bright, we think, and we'll be right here busting our butts (and occasionally yours) in the Conley era.
Open for Business Again
Construction on Knoxville's most historic and treasured public space dragged on longer than anyone, including the construction crew, had expected or hoped for. The main culprits were heavy rains and the unforeseen need to replace all the utilities. But the chainlink fences finally came down and the mud was covered with concrete, grass, trees and flowers. Some complained about the finished productpeople would have complained no matter whatbut the excitement and energy were hard to ignore at the grand opening in November. It was even more bustling the day after Thanksgiving, when the city held its official Christmas tree lighting. Despite the chilly weather, the square attracted a good crowd as a brass band played carols and the city gave out free cookies and ice cream (brrrr!friendly hint: hot cider and cocoa would rock next year). The work on the Square isn't finishedthere are many accoutrements, like a fountain and benches, yet to be installed. But it's starting to look like what downtown's champions have craved all these years.
The east side of the square is filling up quickly, mostly in space owned by Scott and Bernadette West, with several businesses now located there: Bliss Home + Art, Market Square Booksellers, Earth To Old City, Village Marketplace, Preservation Pub, Reruns, and of course, the Tomato Head. Jenny's Bagelry and Deli is expected to open by the end of the year and Oodles Noodle Bar, World Market2 and Gypsy Hands Healing Arts are expected to open next year. And people are beginning to move into apartments in the Wests' property. Sadly, the coffeeshop and bar called Brazo, which opened just as construction started last year, did not succeed.
Buildings on the west side owned by David Dewhirst have been renovated but they remain vacant. Not to be overlooked on the west side of the square are Shonos in City, Susan Key Gallery, Nomad, Gus's, Subway, and of course, Soup Kitchen. Not including professional offices, that's 14 new businesses open and at least another four on the way. Not too shabby.
A Saturday produce market has also started in the square and the Sundown in the City concert series will likely return here in the spring. Nearby Krutch Park has also been renovated and expanded.
Despite all the mud and hassle of the construction, things are looking really good for Knoxville's beloved Market Square.
Dwelling downtown began to turn from a narrowly appreciated fad toward a generally accepted trend, as the city issued permits to develop more and more residential units, mostly along Gay Street.
The Sterchi Apartments filled up, the Phoenix and the Emporium began leasing, and other, smaller or lower-profile buildings began converting unused space to mid- to upscale residences.
You never saw so much in the way of exposed mechanicals, wiring, and plumbing, but the initial speculators have bragged that they could have leased many more units if the time, space, and financing were available.
It's the sort of thing that mushrooms once it's started, and that seems to be just what's happening now, especially after our own frequently irrepressible contributor, Jack Mauro, described the genre of downtown dwellers "loftists." Everybody loves a label, don't they? That's what makes a fad a trend.
Moving in Marble
Downtown's landmark post office had been largely vacant until businessman Sam Furrow acquired it last year and undertook a $6.5 million renovation. The city chipped in with a $500,000 grant for refurbishing the building's marble-clad exterior, a striking art-moderne relic from the late Hoover era (and, as many have noted, a dead ringer for the slightly later Nashville P.O. now hailed as the Frist Center).
On completion this year, the state Supreme and Appellate Courts took over the most gorgeous courtroom in Knoxville, the second-floor space that had been vacated by the federal district court when it moved to the former Whittle Communications headquarters several years ago. Union Planter's Bank took most of what had been the city's old main post office, leaving room on the street floor for a small downtown branch P.O.
Doing the Architectural Limbo
The Sprankle Building remained in a weird sort of limbo throughout the year. The date on the MPC public-hearing yard sign on the corner changed monthly, only to be tabled once again. The Ashe administration has sought historic protection for the five-story building, which in its century on Union Avenue has served as everything from an upscale residential building to a bordello of sorts. Home Federal bought the building about a decade ago for cheap and never attempted to renovate it. In 2002, they evicted the Sprankle's ground-level tenants, including Pete's restaurant, mumbling something about plans to raze the building with vague plans for a big headquarters building. (That's long-term. All the bank could promise in the short term was a surface parking lot for a few of its own employees.) Mayor Ashe, reborn as Preservationist late in his career, was determined that the buildingwhich now finds itself in a high-demand residential neighborhoodshould be preserved; Haslam has yet to show his cards.