Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing, Watson Team Making Mark In Knoxville

Sunday, December 17, 2006 - by John Shearer
Chattanoogans Christian Rushing, Ann Coulter and Stroud Watson on the job in Knoxville. Click to enlarge.
Chattanoogans Christian Rushing, Ann Coulter and Stroud Watson on the job in Knoxville. Click to enlarge.
- photo by John Shearer

Many University of Tennessee students, alumni and sports fans from Chattanooga have visited “the Strip” area of Knoxville’s Cumberland Avenue, and now some Chattanooga planning consultants are helping the community revisit and redesign the stretch of restaurants, bars and other businesses near the campus.

Working with the lead planning firm of Gladding Jackson from Florida, representatives of the local consulting firm Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson recently spent several days in Knoxville meeting with local officials and the public to help them come up with positive changes for the area.

Among the ideas suggested during a series of community meetings the Chattanoogans helped facilitate were improving traffic flow by possibly having only one lane in each direction but offering a turn lane in the middle, having wider sidewalks to improve the pedestrian flow, and offering bike lanes.

Also, community members have suggested building multi-story buildings with retail on the first floor and housing on the upper floors at some places (similar to some of the newer buildings in the Frazier Avenue/North Shore area), improving parking, having more unique businesses and restaurants, and adding more trees and green space.

A suggestion has also been made to have an uninterrupted grass and sidewalk/stairway corridor all the way down the hill from the Presidential Complex of high-rise UT dorms to Cumberland Avenue, giving the students an incentive not to have to drive their cars the quarter of a mile to the area.

“If you give it enough time, it will become one of the best places to shop, eat and interact with the downtown community,” said Stroud Watson, one of the principals in the firm.

However, he admitted transforming the area might tike time because of the numerous land and business owners in the area with different agendas. “A lot of the ownership needs to buy into the long-term goal. But it can become a place that has people working there, living there and playing there,” he said.

Fellow principal Ann Coulter believes the opportunity to improve the Strip is big. Their firm has also been involved in some planning work near the University of Memphis, and she has learned that universities in urban areas are generally interested in improving the community around it.

“They take more of an active role in the attractiveness and quality of life,” she said. “The fact that UT and the city are so interested in the Strip area is indicative of that.”

Ms. Coulter, who narrowly missed becoming Chattanooga’s first woman mayor in 2005, has also been involved in the South Knoxville riverfront redevelopment plan, which is still in its initial stages.

Chattanooga developers Jon Kinsey, Ben Probasco and Ken Hays have also been involved in Knoxville with such restoration/redevelopment projects as Market Square and the Candy Factory building at World’s Fair Park, which is being converted into condominiums.

Because of all the success Chattanooga has enjoyed in recent years with its riverfront and downtown redevelopment, Knoxville has been a little envious, according to some people, and has even had a little bit of an inferiority complex, at least concerning its downtown area.

But Ms. Coulter said that could be changing. “Chattanooga had one (an inferiority complex) some time ago,” she said. “Nashville had one, and Knoxville has had one, too, but they are overcoming it fast. What it takes is some success.”

To help it achieve success, Knoxville has turned to Chattanooga for at least some help. Mr. Watson said some Knoxville officials came down to Chattanooga 12-15 years ago to learn more about the city’s success, and he has made several presentations to different Knoxville groups in the last decade or so.

“I think that is wonderful we were able to share and it has had an effect,” Mr. Watson said.

As has been the case with the planning for the Strip, the various Knoxville meetings the Chattanooga firm has helped facilitate have tried to involve members of the public, just as the initial Chattanooga Venture meetings of the mid-1980s did. Those Chattanooga meetings eventually led to such projects as the construction of the Tennessee Aquarium and the restoration of the Walnut Street Bridge and the Tivoli Theatre.

Ms. Coulter said that when she was helping consult on the South Knoxville waterfront plan, members of the public came to the initial meeting originally because of fear. “They were concerned what the redevelopment might do to their homes and what they valued about the place would be gone,” she said. “But the mayor (Bill Haslam) was consistent that whatever happened would come out of their dreams. They ended up being involved in the whole redesign of the area.”

Mr. Watson added that he and the other consultants are careful to encourage Knoxville or another community to highlight what is unique about a certain area that is being redeveloped and not to offer generic models that can be used anywhere.

“We have been pretty consistent about exporting fundamental methods that have to be built up by the communities themselves so you don’t have little Chattanoogas,” he said.

The Chattanooga firm has also been involved in helping Nashville redevelop the area alongside the Cumberland River and is the lead contractor in helping the Northeastern Tennessee town of Kingsport redesign an area alongside the Holston River.

“We love Tennessee,” said Ms. Coulter with a smile.

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