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Mayor Kincannon: New Urban Wilderness amenities ‘enhance quality of life for all residents’
November 17, 2022; 1:27p.m.

KNOXVILLE -- Years of planning and community discussions about new amenities on or near the South Waterfront will come to fruition in 2023.

• Anticipate Sevier Avenue Streetscapes Project construction to get underway. New streets will be constructed off Waterfront Drive, as the South Banks apartments community continues to take shape.

• A new Lancaster Drive sidewalk will connect families with a community school, restaurants, Urban Wilderness amenities and other neighborhood anchors.

• $2.7 million is being invested in the Baker Creek area of the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park – this phase of park build-out adding shade structures, restrooms, a picnic area and additional parking.

• At its Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting, City Council authorized Mayor Indya Kincannon’s administration to execute a $640,000 agreement with Great Southern Recreation to design and install a new Baker Creek Preserve Adventure Playground.

The Adventure Playground will incorporate natural materials into the landscape – possibly boulders, a treetop walkway or log scramble play areas. The new play area should be open by the end of 2023.

All combined, City Council since last month authorized Mayor Kincannon’s administration to proceed with nearly $7 million in contracts associated with the latest round of Urban Wilderness community-building and economic-development projects.

From the City County Building, the bustle of new restaurants and apartments on Sevier Avenue is visible, as are the grading work and new roadbeds taking shape next to Suttree Landing Park, where kayakers and canoeists put into the Tennessee River.

Anecdotal evidence and the latest data indicate that the Urban Wilderness has become a regional and national outdoor adventure destination. Last year, 303,680 people used Urban Wilderness trails, and one in five of those trail users was a first-time out-of-town guest.

A recent report from the University of Tennessee Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy found the Urban Wilderness also delivers environmental benefits valued at $3.4 million a year. For example, Urban Wilderness trees capture 51,000 tons of greenhouse gases, averting $2.2 million in environmental damage.

“The Urban Wilderness is increasingly becoming an economic driver,” Mayor Kincannon said. “But more importantly, it’s a rare and stunningly beautiful gem for us to experience and enjoy. These unique amenities that we’re adding enhance the quality of life for all Knoxville residents.”

Councilman Tommy Smith, who represents the 1st District (South Knoxville), at the Oct. 18 Council meeting described the build-out of the Urban Wilderness as “the realization of a vision of an entire community.”

Meanwhile, there’s a new Urban Wilderness point person who will be helping to coordinate the efforts of public and private partners.

Mayor Kincannon has appointed Wes Soward – a former President of the Board of the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club from 2016-20 – to serve as the City’s new Urban Wilderness Coordinator. Soward succeeds Rebekah Jane Justice, promoted earlier this year as the City’s Deputy Economic Development Officer and Urban Designer.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening in 2023 in the Urban Wilderness:


Urban Wilderness Gateway Park

Work in 2023 will focus on the Baker Creek area. This is the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park Phase 2 Baker Creek Pavilion Project. Funding was previously allocated for this work.

Phase 1 included the framework for the new park – utilities, greenway, connector roads and the one-of-a-kind Baker Creek Bike Park.

Phase 2 will incorporate additional amenities for family fun. By late next year, the new Adventure Playground will be complete, along with more parking and restrooms.

This project is creating park amenities, including an asphalt greenway, concrete plaza hardscapes with architectural finishes, and a steel space frame shade canopy.

Design and Construction Services Inc., the project contractor, is expected to have the project completed in late 2023.


Sevier Avenue

For several years, the Sevier Avenue Streetscapes Project has been quietly moving forward – right-of-way acquisitions, plus painstakingly tedious but important design tweaks, based on community input.

In 2023, look for actual construction to begin, starting with utility upgrades and relocations.

The 18-month construction will result in smooth, new, wider sidewalks. There will be new street lights, dedicated on-street parking and bike lanes. Unsightly utility lines will be buried.

Plus, when the project is finished, there will be a roundabout at Sevier Avenue, Foggy Bottom Street and Island Home Avenue, which will allow motorists to more efficiently, quickly and safely reach their destination.

The project reflects a multi-million-dollar City investment, but it’s about more than concrete and aesthetics.

“I’m excited that we’re at the cusp of seeing this happen,” Justice said. “Sevier Avenue has been long-envisioned as – and has become – the commercial spine of the South Waterfront.

“This investment is about creating a mixed-use, walkable and connected neighborhood.”

City Engineering officials said that at least one lane of Sevier Avenue will remain open throughout the duration of the streetscape construction.


Waterfront Drive

More than $1 million is being invested in the final phase of the Waterfront Drive Improvements Project.

This last phase includes the construction of two new roads by Whaley Construction – the extension of Barber and Claude streets, connecting Langford Drive and Waterfront Drive and adding sidewalks, streetlights, stormwater drains and on-street parking.

Once the Dominion Group’s $60 million mixed-use South Banks development – 230 apartments and retail space – is finished, the new public streets and sidewalks throughout the nine-block area will be connected and walkable.


Lancaster Drive

The City of Knoxville is soliciting bids for a new sidewalk on Lancaster Drive, between Tilson Street and Sevierville Pike. The investment is expected to total about $800,000, and the sidewalk would connect residences, businesses, South-Doyle Middle School and the Baker Creek Pavilion site.

“This sidewalk is a key effort to increase connectivity and provide safer, better access,” Justice said.

 















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