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January 27, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Mixed Use Spaces Symposium “inspiring”

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero probably captured it best with a simple, but accurate description – “I was inspired.”

Her accolades were directed at last Thursday night’s “Creative Mixed Use Spaces in Knoxville Symposium,” organized by Knoxville entrepreneur Alex Lavidge and held at Remedy Coffee and Conversation on West Jackson Avenue. The last word in the venue’s name underscored a recurring theme for the event.

More than 60 people, from current or recent college students to middle age and older (with the author at the far end), spent an hour listening to 10 individuals talk about their vision for mixed use spaces in Knoxville. Small group conversations preceded and followed the formal part of the symposium.

Some of the presenters had concrete plans, others simply ideas, inspired in several cases by initiatives they learned about in other cities. Some had already implemented their concepts, while others were merely seeking reaction and input from the attendees. Some had financial backing, others were seeking investments.

Regardless of the relative positioning of their idea, the presenters shared two things in common – each was passionate about his or her idea, and all were focused on making mixed use spaces work.

We did an article several weeks ago about Lavidge’s vision for the event and followed it with a second article listing the presenters who were allocated four minutes. We did not know what to expect, but we left as the Mayor did – inspired by the ideas that we heard and the passions that were exhibited.

“We’re all here because we’re one community and, by talking together, we can accomplish more,” Lavidge said as he opened the symposium. During the presentations that followed, the continuous theme involved venues where people can gather to communicate and collaborate.

  • Mike Carroll of MK Technologies, Inc. presented the first idea, which will be formally unveiled soon. It is the new Market Square Entrepreneur Center that he described as a “sanctuary to nurture individual’s business ideas.” Carroll emphasized the center “needs to reflect not just business needs, but societal as well.”
  • Rick Kuhlman, Project Leader for 4 Market Square, described how that mixed use facility housing Café 4, the Square Room and Knoxville Fellows is a classic example of the overall concept. It includes a restaurant, meeting and entertainment space, living areas, and offices.
  • Nathan Fray, Director of United Pursuit Records and a drummer in United Pursuit Band, described how he and some colleagues turned to the Internet to raise $100,000 to develop a mixed use building across West Fifth Avenue from the East Tennessee Automobile Club. They actually raised $109,960 from 850 people in 35 countries. With investments from others, they are now renovating the old building to include a coffee shop, offices and a 400-person gathering space for concerts.
  • Sean Alsobrooks, owner of Remedy Coffee and Conversation, talked about his experience creating his coffee shop in the front of the building and the large room in the back that hosts a variety of events. His newest venture, launching in the spring, is something that he dubbed “Old City United.” It will be on the third floor of the Remedy building and have offices designed to foster more collaboration.
  • Kelle Jolly, a local musician, is joining with her husband to create an East Knoxville venue for artists, musicians, activists and educators. “I cannot live in a community without being involved,” she said.
  • Victor Agreda, currently Editor-in-Chief of TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog), described his idea as “a mall of creation rather than a mall of consumption . . . a series of connected businesses that share a common goal.” Chattanooga’s Create Here was an inspiration for his idea.
  • Shawn Carson of Tech 20/20 noted that Knoxville is ranked as the third, fourth or fifth largest center for digital media production in the country. The ranking comes because of local companies like Scripps Networks Interactive, Jupiter Entertainment, and Rivr Media. Drawing on this positioning, Carson described his vision for an eight- to 12-week, residential “Digital Media Accelerator” to create new start-ups.
  • Leo Knight, a well-known local entrepreneur who is President of Entrepreneurs of Knoxville, described ways in which he is trying to use business locations that he owns to help others foster new companies. He invited attendees to use his collaboration space at 1202 Kenesaw Avenue.
  • Michael Neel founded Codestock, a two-day gathering of working professionals sharing knowledge and experience. He’s stepped away from day-to-day responsibility for the event and pitched his latest initiative – The Technology Cooperative. Located just across the street from Remedy Coffee, the venue will provide collaborative workspace for members “willing to donate time to provide free technical learning activities, consultation and mentoring.”

Lavidge promised another event soon but, at least for now, the presenters offered a number of ideas to consider and invitations for others to join them to make their visions a reality.

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