By Mike Steely
The past twelve months have seen many changes in Knox County and yet some things remain the same. The Knoxville Mayor and City Council were re-elected and county commissioners and other officials turned in their petitions for the 2016 elections.
The first leg of the Knox-Blount Greenway was completed from the Buck Karnes Bridge to the county’s Marine Park and work began on Gay Street’s new image. Washington Pike’s improvements were announced as were the plans for the Broadway-I-640 interchange.
Concerned citizens, organizations and neighborhood groups united during 2015 in sometime successful attempts to save historic homes and buildings. Regal Entertainment Group, the city, county and state came to an agreement and funding to relocate the national chain headquarters to the former Baptist Hospital office building just south of the Henley Bridge.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Superintendent James McIntyre momentarily resolved their issues and announced the funding of a middle school for the Gibbs community. The school administration was also told that the Andrew Johnson Building, a county-owned downtown site that houses the school’s offices, may be sold. Alternative locations for the offices included the old Rule High School Building.
Opposition to policies implemented by School Superintendent James McIntyre and his slim majority on the Board of Education continued to grow and candidates came forward to fill the seats of incumbents for the 2016 general election.
Finding a communication system for the city-county E-911 system failed twice as members of the board could not reach an agreement despite hiring a consultant.
Emerald Youth Academy announced it was moving into the Old Moses School in Mechanicsville and the owner of the former Cedar Lane Presbyterian Church, now offices, learned that her rezoning was granted and she could put up a sign. President Obama visited Knoxville and spoke, along with Vice President Joe Biden, at Pellissippi State University.
Also during the first month of 2015, John Schoonmaker was chosen by the Knox County Commission to fill the seat left by Dr. Richard Briggs’ election to the State Senate. Jim Richards was chosen by KAT as the new chairman.
During the second month Lauren Hopson was elected president of the Knox County Education Association. The Beer Board changed policy placing more days of no-beer sales on violators of the sale of beer to minors.
Fountain City Town Hall was updated by the city on plans to restore Fountain City Lake and the Board of Education debated policy.
Knox County suffered through snow and ice during February but some neighborhoods took advantage of the snow with sledding parties.
The former Karns Bakery building on Chapman Highway was purchased with plans for retail, a restaurant and residences there. Talk began that month about options, including demolition, of the Knoxville Coliseum. More than 700 people attended the annual Neighborhood Conference and the Broadway-I-640 interchange plans were announced by TDOT.
The city’s sign ordinance was discussed again at City Council and Mayor Madeline Rogero kicked off her re-election campaign with members of both political parties, including incumbent council members, present.
Ron Rochelle was named to replace Schoonmaker on the County BZA.
The contract for the Cumberland Avenue Streetscape project was awarded and the strip construction soon drew some complains from merchants there.
The Board of Education approved a budget for the next fiscal year and citizens pushed for building new schools in Hardin Valley and Gibbs.
In April the E-911 Board hired a consultant to recommend a radio provider but later could not reach a decision because of a tie vote.
City and County celebrated the end of the Civil War, 150 years after the war, with various events. Gerald Green was hired as the new Metropolitan Planning Director. Solar cells were authorized for various county and school buildings.
Attention turned to preserving the Howard House on Broadway as developers announced plans to demolish the historic home and build a Walmart Marketplace there. The plans were eventually dropped due to organized citizen opposition.
The city council, mayor, and judge races kicked off. Powell Drive, bypassing the Powell Community, opened with a ceremony on that new road. The county mayor and school system superintendent announced a plan to fund the building of a middle school in Gibbs and the school administration offices were told to look for a new location and plan, eventually, to move out of the Andrew Johnson Building.
In late June the county commission refused funding of the “Broad Academy” matching funds the superintendent had accepted without commission approval.
The pocket park on Kingston Pike in Bearden was officially named “Everly Park” in honor of the Everly Brothers, who attended West High School briefly while living in Knoxville. Plans were announced for the park.
The Washington Pike street project was the subject of some criticism by area residents in a public hearing. The city broke ground for Suttree Landing Park and detailed plans for the South Waterfront Greenway.
The Karns Senior Center opened and the County’s Internal Audit found that Hotel-Motel Occupancy Taxes were delinquent and no effort had been made by the Clerk’s office to collect the taxes.
County commission election races began to heat up with attention focused on the First and Second District seats where both incumbents announced they would not seek re-election.
The Knoxville Botanical Gardens Visitor Center opened in grand ceremony and the Everly Brothers Park was dedicated. Renovation of the Farragut Hotel by Dover Development was approved and the Farragut Planning Commission rejected proposed apartments on Smith Road.
The Knoxville MPC approved plans for a tall cell tower for the Ridgecrest-Martha Berry neighborhood but the city council later turned down the request after neighborhood residents campaigned against the tower.
Gibbs Drive residents and the Fountain City Town Hall rallied against a proposed office complex at the entrance to that North Broadway neighborhood.
The Fountain City Auction hosted a “Mayberry” auction that drew hundreds of people interested in memorabilia from that iconic TV series. A replica of Sheriff Andy Taylor’s car was sold during the event.
Hollerpalooza at Happy Holler was a huge event as was the Open Streets event along North Broadway later in October.
During September the city of Knoxville continued to turn over city streets to the University of Tennessee. Fountain City Lake got some city attention and Dave Wright was selected as Chairman of the county commission, replacing Chairman Brad Anders. Commissioner Bob Thomas replaced Wright as vice chairman.
Doug Harris was named school board chairman and the 5-4 standoff continued in that body.
The River Bluffs park area officially became part of a growing number of city parks although a name for the additional acres and overlook has yet to be chosen. The site of the Battle of Armstrong Hill the new addition is near Fort Higley High Grounds Park overlooking downtown Knoxville and the Tennessee River.
The Ridgecrest-Martha Berry Cell Tower was rejected by city council and a “use of force” was detailed by the City Police Department at a meeting of the Police Advisory Committee.
Groundbreaking at the site of the future Gibbs Middle School took place with a large ceremony attended by hundreds of people. The Regal Entertainment Group agreement to relocate to the South Waterfront became a “done deal.”
The school system’s “consent” items on agendas of the county commission continued to be debated.
Tony Norman kicked off his school board campaign and Rick Staples was honored and credited with helping with the Austin East Homecoming.
Law Director Bud Armstrong kicked off his re-election campaign and Carson Daily was selected as vice chairman of the Board of Zoning Appeals. Carson Daily also kicked off his campaign for county commission this month and Brad Anders started his re-election campaign for commission.
Plans for the street repairs on Gay Street are announced to begin in December following the city Christmas Parade. The school board rejected non-renewal policy revision.
Commissioner Dave Wright kicked off his re-election campaign as did school board member Mike McMillan. Navy Veteran Boyd Armstrong received some home repair help from “Rebuilding Together” and a Walmart Marketplace store was postponed for the Ball Camp Pike area.
Moorland Heights Elementary School opened a new playground in honor of the late student Cole Cross and Dr. Joe Carcello announced his resignation as chairman of the County Audit Committee.
Republican presidential primary candidate Donald Trump drew a large crowd during an appearance at the Knoxville Convention Center. County commission continued to “talk about what they can’t talk about” concerning consent items submitted by the school board.
Pilot/Flying J announced sponsorship of the “Battle at Bristol” UT game in September of 2016 and then announced funding of turf football fields for all Knoxville high schools over a multi-year period.
Magpies Bakery challenged, then dropped its request for a roof-top art display in opposition to the city’s new sign ordinance. The Knoxville Focus and Fountain City Auction contributed musical instruments to the Joy of Music School.
Various parades, including the popular Fountain City event, took place in and around the county.
The school board approved a two-year extension of Superintendent McIntyre’s contract in a 5-4 vote, essentially guaranteeing him a $1 million settlement if he is dismissed. The matter went to the county commission and the Law Director questioned elements in the agreement during a work session meeting in December. More recently the Law Director declared the contract “unenforceable” and that the previous contract, ending McIntyre’s contract in 2017, is the only legal agreement.
City council approved the funding of the purchase and renovation of the former Baptist Hospital Medical Office building for the relocation of Regal’sheadquarters. The city also looked at revisions to the Food Truck program allowing more vendors and more locations at a lesser cost.
The filing deadline came and went and several potential candidates for county commission and the school board didn’t return their qualification forms. It appears that most of the incumbents will face primary opposition and all of the races are being disputed in the general election, with an unusual number of Democratic candidates challenging Republicans.
Rural/Metro and the Knoxville Fire Department graduated new classes of fire fighters.
Mayor Madeline Rogero and four incumbent council members, George Wallace, Mark Campen, Finbarr Saunders and Marshall Stair, were sworn in for new terms. Councilman Duane Grieve was elected by the council as Vice Mayor, replacing Councilman Nick Pavlis.
Knox County Commission and the Knoxville School Board met with local state legislators and discussed concerns. The commission met for the final session for the year and voted not to approve Superintendent McIntyre’s contract but the vote was only symbolic as the commission cannot tell the board of education how to spend its budget. The commission also voted to approve a sector plan and zoning plan for the proposed Midway Industrial Park.