Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC), along with business and community leaders and residents, officially broke ground Thursday, Aug. 3, at 10:30 a.m. on the first phase of transformation of Western Heights, which will begin with the site’s infrastructure.
Mayor Indya Kincannon later posted: “The rain couldn’t dampen the excitement around the groundbreaking for Transforming Western. More than 450 new, affordable housing units will soon dot this landscape. After years of planning, the vision of this community is coming to life! The city is proud to commit more than $26.5 million for this project!”
Ben Bentley, executive director of KCDC, said “Western Heights and the Beaumont neighborhood will become a place where everyone can thrive starting with early education and continuing with improved access to employment, healthcare, recreation and supportive services to form a cohesive community.”
The funding for Transforming Western comes in part from a $40 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods grant that was announced in 2022. The city of Knoxville is investing $4.2 million in infrastructure, as part of $26.5 million committed over multiple budgets.
The process to earn the highly competitive HUD Choice Neighborhoods grant began in 2021 with insight from Western Heights residents followed by meetings with 17 stakeholder groups with a vested interest in the neighborhood. The three other cities across the United States that were awarded the HUD grants, which totaled $180 million, included Omaha, Nebraska; Durham, North Carolina; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“The Choice Neighborhoods grant program enables communities to revitalize high poverty neighborhoods by replacing distressed public housing and HUD-assisted developments with new mixed-income housing, catalyzing investments in the surrounding neighborhood and improving opportunities for target housing residents,” said Walter Perry, HUD Knoxville field office director. “Choice Neighborhoods staff work with grantees to assist them in developing and implementing the people, housing and neighborhood elements of these plans. This official start of the Transforming Western implementation is a milestone to celebrate.”
Housing construction for Transforming Western will start in the coming months and occur in four phases. Phase 1, which will take approximately 18 months, will provide 76 rental units, including 31 subsidized replacement units, 30 affordable units and 15 market rate units. Phase 2 is projected to be completed in 2026, Phase 3 in 2027 and Phase 4 in 2028.
As part of the Transforming Western plan, the 196 units of affordable housing currently at Western Heights will be rebuilt along with an anticipated addition of 283 new units of affordable and market-rate housing to create a diverse, mixed-income community. The property’s location will allow various choices in housing style and highlight the aspirational views of the city and mountains. Brinshore Development and KCDC will lead the housing elements of the plan.
The architect for Phase 1 housing is Smith Gee Studio of Nashville with Blackburn Development Group serving as owner’s representative.
The neighborhood component of the Transforming Western plan will address safety; transportation; open space such as parks and recreation; arts, culture and entrepreneurship; and cohesiveness of the community. Two large parks in later phases will include a hillside climbing park, playground and splashpad with spaces for creativity and entrepreneurship to build a new neighborhood economic center, including food service and an entrepreneurial kitchen.
“The Choice Neighborhoods grants have spurred some of the most innovative and complex redevelopment in the country, transforming severely distressed housing into new mixed-income communities that replace each HUD-assisted unit one-for-one,” Bentley said. “They’ve also sparked impactful supportive services strategies from comprehensive early learning initiatives to healthcare to employment. Knoxville will become the next city to fully transform a community through Choice Neighborhoods.”
The first step of the overall initiative was completed in October 2022 with the official opening of the Western Heights Head Start center, which provides comprehensive preschool programs for neighborhood children from infant to age 5. The $5.6 million, 22,000-square-foot building, located at 1101 W. Oldham Ave., offers Head Start and Early Head Start programming by the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) to more than 130 children.
The people component of the Transforming Western plan focuses on improving education outcomes; offering better internet access; boosting healthcare availability; establishing enrichment opportunities for youth; securing living wage jobs and career paths; and offering access to affordable, healthy and fresh foods.
Dozens of area non-profit partners will join forces and provide supportive services, programs and activities for the area’s residents with CAC leading the people component.
KCDC’s lead partners in the Transforming Western planning process included the city of Knoxville, Brinshore Development, Urban Design Associates, BarberMcMurry Architects and CAC.
Information about the full plan is available at transformingwestern.com.
Established in 1939, Western Heights is KCDC’s largest affordable housing development and is located just off Keith and Western avenues in Northwest Knoxville.
KCDC provided information for this article.