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March 13, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

$42M federal grant will reconnect East Knoxville to Downtown

The U.S. Department of Transportation Grant is the largest federal grant to Knoxville in recent history.

The community gathered outside Morningside Park on Wednesday afternoon for an exciting announcement from City of Knoxville officials. The city, alongside the Knoxville Community Development Corporation (KCDC), has been awarded a $42.6 million grant to implement civic infrastructure in areas impacted by urban renewal. The grant, which is the city’s largest in recent history, comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) “Reconnecting Communities” initiative.

The project will be completed through seven phases and will create about 10 miles of sidewalks and trails that connect East Knoxville residents to economic, cultural, and recreational activities.

A bit of background might be warranted. Urban renewal was considered the process of seizing and demolishing large swaths of private and public property to modernize and improve aging infrastructure. According to the Beck Cultural Center, urban renewal initiatives in Knoxville disproportionally affected Black communities. It took people’s homes, businesses, and churches.  The projects relocated and displaced many Black families, and erased heritage and memories from the map. It also separated parts of East Knoxville from downtown.

“A year ago we applied for this grant and we didn’t get it,” said Mayor Indya Kincannon at the public announcement. “So, this time we asked for even more money and the federal government awarded it to us. They gave us everything we asked for.”

The grant will significantly expand the greenway system in the city. It will connect East Knoxville, Morningside Park, the Old City, South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, Baker Creek Preserve, and neighborhoods in South Knoxville that were separated by previous infrastructure projects.

“The greenway expansions funded by this grant will offer residents of East and South Knoxville sustainable connectivity to improve the overall quality of life,” said Ben Bentley, the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of  KCDC.

More specifically, the greenway system will run from the Old City downtown to the Knoxville Botanical Gardens. It will weave through neighborhoods and Harriet Tubman Park. The trail includes a “Cultural Corridor” plan that will outline 10 historical sites along the greenway.

This project will be completed over the next several years; however, city officials begin construction on the trails will begin in 2025.

For more information on the project, visit KCDC’s website.

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