Earlier this week, a team of consultants met with some 40 interested citizens at Chilhowee Park’s Jacob Building to discuss their ideas on how to plan the 81-acre park’s future.
The Tuesday evening session was part of the kickoff interviews conducted by city consultants Bill Krueger and Joel Feldman of Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL), who were joined by architects Farris Eid, Bill Bruce and Deana Murphy to discuss ideas on how the park might be modernized and used to advantage by the city and surrounding neighborhoods. An improved Chilhowee Park could add a further spark to the road renovations and area rejuvenation occurring along the Magnolia Corridor. Chip Barry, the city’s deputy chief of operations, moderated the event.
The community gathering was one of many contacts CSL hopes to make among exhibitors, area businesses and government entities to better evaluate the park and its added potential for redevelopment and calculate the associated economic costs and benefits any upgrade could produce for East Knoxville and the city. Chilhowee Park is managed by SMG, along with other tourist and city-owned convention and entertainment venues. It has a $1.17 million budget and attracts some 57,000 visitors annually.
Chilhowee Park adjoins one of Tennessee’s top tourist attractions: the 50-acre Zoo Knoxville, which is undergoing its own $30 million facilities upgrade. The park also houses The Muse, noted for its children’s educational and recreational activities, and the Homer Hamilton boxing and activity center. Most Knoxvillians are familiar with the park’s annual Street Rods show in May, the September Tennessee Valley Fair, the Kuumba festival and the holiday craft shows, as well as gun shows and Remote Area Medical treatment events. The park combined with Zoo Knoxville and the nearby Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum provides a mighty combination for tourist development. There is still a need for some private hotel and restaurant supporting facilities.
The storied 100-year history of the park was discussed and is hoped to be preserved. The desire for some architectural enhancement of the currently windowless Jacob Building, as well as better elevator access to the second level, was discussed.
Residents at Tuesday night’s meeting were enthusiastic about preserving the park’s open green space and opportunities that might make it more accessible for walking and playing with their children and/or pets. Some suggested improvements included better development of the park’s water feature, a skateboard park for kids, adding better ice hockey facilities for both the local Ice Bears team as well as kids interested in the sport. Others suggested providing a more artist-friendly, lower-entry-cost music amphitheater, as well as hosting bull-riding events, re-adding a regional horse show arena, and setting up attractive gardens and even a wedding venue on the site.
Folks seemed receptive to the consultants’ initial suggestion of substituting a parking garage to serve both the Zoo and Chilhowee Park, thereby restoring the current unsightly “sea of asphalt” to more attractive green space. Others wanted better access to the Jacob Building, and better signage. Several folks recommended a dedicated road entrance to the zoo from Magnolia Avenue. Another resident suggested an entrance to the midway section of the park from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
The dark tunnel connecting the main park to the midway area needs improvement and better lighting. It was also suggested that the city acquire and remove the several rundown buildings at the corner of Lakeside and Magnolia, and then establish a better park entryway from the east.
All in all, Tuesday’s stakeholders and community meeting sparked a vibrant park rejuvenation discussion. The CSL consultants will set up a website for more public comments and plan to continue their project review, discussion with stakeholders, and complete the study of the park this summer. Barry reports that they have interviewed/spoken with 200 stakeholders thus far.
ADDENDUM: On Dec. 18, 2018, City Council approved a $200,000 contract with CSL to assist the city in developing the future direction and growth of Chillhowee Park and Exhibition Center in conjunction with existing plans for Zoo Knoxville, the Magnolia Corridor project and Burlington redevelopment. CSL is to evaluate public and private investment opportunities, existing infrastructure and future construction needs to help both Chillhowee Park and Zoo Knoxville over the next five to 10 years.