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Downtown Changes | From parking to public transport, how growth in Downtown Knoxville can grow other neighborhoods

By Kailyn Lamb, Former Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

A lot is changing in Downtown Knoxville. At teknovation.biz, we decided to speak with various leaders in the area to see what these changes might mean for Knoxville, as well as for businesses there.

As more affordable housing slowly takes shape in and around downtown, connecting those developments like Western Heights to the new downtown amenities is something Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) is looking at. Belinda Woodiel-Brill, Director of Planning and Public Information with KAT, said the organization recently started asking people if they wanted more service in busy areas or more service options to connecting areas in Knoxville. Looking at responses to what’s being called the “KAT Reimagined” project, KAT’s board said it will likely split resources with 70 percent going toward the higher frequency network and 30 percent toward wider coverage. Woodiel-Brill added there will be more opportunities for public comment on “KAT Reimagined” in the future.

Construction has already caused KAT to alter the Green Line for the downtown trolley. Woodiel-Brill said new developments are an opportunity for transit to evolve. In the downtown area, where there’s infrastructure such as sidewalks already in place, it can be easier to place bus stops in those locations. Going out into other parts of Knoxville and Knox County, that infrastructure may need to be added before a new stop is feasible.

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“It hopefully allows us to create some connections for people that maybe they didn’t feel like they had before,” she said. “It’s nice to have opportunities where people are living within walking distance of a trolley or this route, and makes it more feasible to use the service.”

She added that with special events, like UTK football games, KAT provides special shuttles to get people there. Woodiel-Brill said the transit organization will likely do something similar for the stadium. The shuttle service includes what KAT calls the “passenger playbook,” which provides step-by-step instructions on how to use public transit for people who may have never used it before.

With more people living and visiting downtown, Doug Lawyer, Vice President of Economic Development with the Knoxville Chamber, said he hopes projects like the stadium will attract more support businesses such as restaurants and retail shops. He also hopes the new projects will attract tech companies or those in the research and development fields, adding “I think it’s an opportunity for a nice extension of what’s going on downtown.” Rick Emmett, the Downtown Coordinator for the City of Knoxville agreed and added he’d also like to see more of a mix of office space downtown in general.

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Emmett added the city is working on tying current projects back to greenways that are already in place, such as the Arboretum.

Alan Sims, otherwise known as the Knoxville Urban Guy, said if the South Knoxville bridge project works in the way the city has planned, there “won’t be a city hardly in the country that can compete with that.”

Both Lawyer and Lauren Longmire, Director of Regional Enhancement with the Chamber, agreed that any growth downtown will also allow the surrounding areas of Knoxville to grow.

“It allows other small businesses, entrepreneurs, and other businesses to also grow, because they are going to reap the benefits of the influx of people, like restaurants like retail boutiques, not to mention construction,” Longmire said. “If they hire cleaning crews, catering, food service, all these things that come out of just this one new establishment, all of these businesses are going to see growth from it.”

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