Magnolia’s miracle mile

Nick Della VolpeFeature, Inside 640

Dozer operators, start your engines!

After nearly a decade of discussion and design work, followed by public meetings, the city of Knoxville is finally ready to launch construction on the long-awaited Magnolia Avenue streetscapes improvement project. The project will be tackled in three phases. Phase I construction, which covers a 4-block area from Jasmine to Myrtle Street, begins with ground breaking on Thursday, Aug. 9. Work should be completed by June 2019.


The city’s 2018-19 fiscal year budget authorized a capital expenditure of $5 million to begin work. The Franklin Group won the bid for Phase I, and was awarded a $4.18 million contract. Project manager Heidi Jones (yes, a woman has the reins) and corporate rep Cary Franklin were on hand at the July 23 city-sponsored, public meet and greet session held at the nearby O’Connor Center. Other city and contract engineering representatives were also present at O’Connor. This included design engineer Casey Tyree from Barge Design Solutions and construction inspection engineer Ryan Henley from Vaughn & Melton.

Magnolia Avenue project build team: Barge designer Chris Tyree; project construction manager from Franklin, Heidi Jones; inspector engineer Ryan Henley; and Franklin principal Chris Franklin.

A second phase Magnolia segment is still under review. It will extend the streetscapes improvement from Myrtle to Bertrand Street.

Dawn Michelle Foster, the city’s redevelopment director, estimated this second phase “will probably be ready for bid by year’s end.” The third or final phase of the project, still in early planning and design, could ultimately take the corridor improvements east to Cherry Street.

The city’s project is physically confined to the existing Magnolia Avenue right-of-way. Its effective reach could be broader though. This U.S. Hwy 11W corridor is recognized as an important “gateway to downtown Knoxville and to several adjacent neighborhoods,” like the Parkridge, Chilhowee and Burlington communities. It is hoped this streetscapes improvement work will also enhance the attractiveness of the corridor for later private investment.

Magnolia streetscape design (Provided by city of Knoxville)

The project design will certainly brighten the appearance of the area. It includes a landscaped center median with designated left turn lanes, widened and improved sidewalks and bicycle lanes, newly-stamped crosswalks, designated on-street parking, street trees, and improved LED street lighting.

Foster said several smaller projects, involving the gateway monument brickwork, nameplate, and design emblems work “will be separately bid to assure small contractors from the area can share in the work.”

There is also a separate proposal out for bid response, due in fall 2018, to improve a city-owned building at 1200 McCalla Avenue – a site that might be adapted to small-scale manufacturing or craft work use by the Knoxville’s growing “maker community.” Foster said that “effort was recommended by Smart Growth America and the city’s Entrepreneur Center” which has been working with ETSY and the maker community.

Overall, these infrastructure improvements should improve business opportunities along Magnolia Avenue, as similar projects are currently doing in South and North Knoxville and other city corridors.

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