Orchid winners represent Knoxville’s future, Rogero says

Betsy PickleOur Town Leaders

To hear Mayor Madeline Rogero tell it, the winners of Keep Knoxville Beautiful’s 2019 Orchid Awards were all the residents of the city.

Rogero was the keynote speaker at the 37th annual awards, which were presented Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Press Room, a renovated building at 730 N. Broadway that was nominated in the Redesign/Reuse category. KKB executive director Alanna McKissack opened the program, and Dino Cartwright announced the winners.

Rogero complimented the nominees, especially ones in the neighborhood where the festivities took place.

“The theme of this year’s Orchid Awards is ‘Clean, Green, Beautiful,’” noted Rogero. “I’m so impressed by the way this year’s nominees have invested not just in green buildings, but in strengthening the communities they work in.

Alanna McKissack and Felicia Harris-Hoehne

“Just as an example … Loch & Key Productions, Kyber Athletics, and of course the beautiful Press Room where we are today, these businesses are transforming this area of Broadway, North Central Street and the neighborhoods they serve by breathing new life into these wonderful old buildings that have long needed a little bit of TLC.

“The value of these investments is more than just the new, lovely facades. These businesses make this area more inviting and pedestrian friendly, and they help create a sense of place. Projects like these are happening all over Knoxville, as you can see from the impressive list of nominees for this year’s awards. Thank you to everyone who played a role in bringing these projects to life. You have made our community stronger and, indeed, more beautiful.”

The city’s public service director, Chad Weth, presented the Felicia Award to Tom Salter, KKB’s executive director 1997-2007 and Knox County’s director of solid waste 2007-2018. The award is named in honor of Felicia Harris-Hoehne and honors a person who exemplifies KKB’s mission of making Knoxville a “clean, green and beautiful city.”

The in-competition award winners were:

  • New Architecture – (tie) KCDC Five Points Phase 2 and the Ken and Blair Mossman Building at the University of Tennessee
  • Redesign/Reuse – The Tombras Group (for the former KUB Building at Gay Street and Church Avenue)
  • Public Art – the Firefly Mural (on the wall under the pedestrian ramp on Clinch Avenue between Locust Avenue and Henley Street)
  • Outdoor Space – (tie) Cumberland Avenue Corridor Project and Hyatt Rooftop Bar
  • Community Garden – Christenberry Outdoor Classroom
  • Restaurant/Café/Bar/Brewery – Kefi
  • Environmental Stewardship – (tie) Gastrointestinal Associates medical office building (off Middlebrook Pike) and the Knoxville Convention Center
  • Mary Lou Horner Beautification Award – the University of Tennessee Gardens

Keep Knoxville Beautiful is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and Northwest Knoxville has been selected as its featured sector for a yearlong cleanup, starting in June. Meanwhile, Rogero is marking her final year in office.

“The idea of achieving beauty through sustainability resonates very deeply with me,” she said. “I see beauty in our entrepreneurism, our maker spirit and our hometown pride.

The Old City Buskers perform as guests arrive at the Orchid Awards.

“I also know that as mayor, I’m entrusted with an opportunity and an obligation to leave Knoxville a better place than I found it – a stronger, safer, healthier and more equitable city that will thrive over the long term. For me, that responsibility includes protecting the environment and addressing climate change while also strengthening the economy and improving the quality of life of our residents.

“Over the course of my administration – I have about 10 months left before I’m term-limited – I’ve challenged my staff to find new ways to help make our municipal operations more efficient and environmentally friendly, to ensure that our citizens have access to clean air and clean water, to invest in resilient infrastructure, and to improve the quality of local homes through energy efficiency.”

Rogero saluted former Mayor Bill Haslam for laying the foundation for sustainability when he was in office. He appointed Rogero and Bill Lyons to co-chair the city’s Energy and Sustainability Task Force, which developed a plan of action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 20 percent by the year 2020 from 2005 levels.

“It is exciting to see how much has changed since those early days,” said Rogero. “For example, when Knoxville won a Solar American Cities grant from the Department of Energy in 2008, we set a goal to increase the amount of solar energy in Knoxville 100-fold by 2015. It seemed ambitious at the time, but the Knoxville community has surpassed it several times over. We now have 250 times more solar in our community today than we did in 2008, and that’s something we can be proud of.

“We’re also well on our way to meeting those greenhouse-emission reduction goals. At the municipal level, we’ve reduced greenhouse emissions by 15 percent, and we’re on track to exceed the 20 percent this year with the completion of our LED streetlight retrofit project. We’re over one-third of the way complete, with new lights installed throughout East and North Knoxville already. At the same time, community-level emissions are down 11 percent, even while Knoxville’s population, economic activity and property values have increased during this time.

Robert Felker won an award for his mural on Clinch Avenue.

“We’re got cleaner electricity thanks to TVA. We’re using less energy overall. Our cars are cleaner. And we’re living in a community that is more walkable, bikable and has a healthier environment. It’s been exciting to watch Knoxville emerge as a regional and national sustainability leader thanks to our forward-looking, pragmatic and effective approach, and that’s not just city government – that is all of us out here.”

Rogero is stepping up her game in order to encourage the next mayor to think green.

“I’m working with my staff and City Council to begin thinking about how we might together set new, longer-term carbon-emission goals,” she said. “We’re meeting those first goals. … Now we need to set broader goals, goals that set our compass toward a dramatically lower carbon future.

“We’ll be unveiling them soon, … and we’ll pass that on to the next administration and the next council, and it will be up to you all to make sure that whoever’s elected as the next mayor that that mayor is committed to continuing those sustainability efforts. Make sure during the campaign that these issues are raised.”

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