Saturday, April 30, 2011

Urban Mystery Picture #4

Well, it's that time again. Once more I'm forced to acknowledge that you guys are very good at this. The Urban Mystery Pictures haven't remained a mystery for more than a few hours each week. This time, maybe we've made it a little harder.

First, last week's picture:
First Tennessee Plaza, Gay Street, Knoxville
Melissa Carr was the first to officially identify the location of the picture as the "First Tennessee Building on Gay Street." Of course, officially, it is the First Tennessee Plaza. Melissa is reveling in her new status as the first female winner of the contest, though she's willing to share a little glory with her husband, Scott, as he gave an assist in her climb to glory. She's also proud to be the first westerners to win. I took that to mean west Knoxville, but judging by the UCLA shirt Scott is wearing, maybe they really mean west. Their picture is posted below with a little twist on our theme: He has the hat and she has the glasses. Pretty sweet.

Scott and Melissa: Urban Mystery Picture #3 Winner
An honorable mention goes out this week to Buddy Ray who gave a correct answer via e-mail, but had a malfunction on the comment portion of the task. I think he's got it together now, so we may hear from him, yet. This also broke the Holston domination. Can they make a comeback this week? Shaft (AKA my friend Kevin) got the cropping apparatus fired up this week and made this a serious challenge for week four.

I'm posting the picture below. Remember, to win you have to be the first to leave the correct answer on the comment section below AND e-mail me at Good luck, everyone.

Urban Mystery Picture #4

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Business Edition - And More!

The business developments in this city continue at an adequately rapid pace to fill a blog about that topic alone. I'm not planning to do that, but I do have quite a bit to pass on today. I'll probably follow up with more sometime next week.

Outside Hotel St. Oliver after the storm blew down the wall.
I've already mentioned the fact that the Market Street Kitchen is closed (see below if you missed it). It seems Mr. Ghodrat will try his fortunes in Clinton with a new restaurant there. His was an important contribution to Market Square and downtown. His vision appears to have been at odds with the new owners of the Hotel St. Oliver and they amicably parted ways. Ethan Orley, one of those owners, stood outside the hotel earlier this week when I approached, somewhat breathless at the sight of Cynthia Markert's art in the dumpster. The wall constructed around the entrance to the Hotel St. Oliver on which the art had been placed collapsed during the high winds in the first round of storms to pass through the city this week.

After receiving assurances about Cynthia's art, we talked about the hotel, which he plans to open very soon, quite possibly in May, which seems to me an amazing turn around given the enormity of the task. I pressed the point that we will need an open house to look around in the hotel and he seemed very receptive to the idea. During the conversation I learned about the Market Street Kitchen and the fact that a new restaurant will soon replace it which will be affiliated with the hotel and will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Coolers and Shelving inside Just Ripe.

Chairs and display cases inside Just Ripe.
But that certainly isn't all the business news about. In the Daylight Building, Reruns is planning a May 24 opening and Just Ripe is making progress. Kristen said it will open "soon." Sandwiched between the two is Union Avenue Books. The news there is that complications have arisen which delayed the opening and the current hope, according to co-owner Flossie McNabb, is for a mid-May opening.

Interior of Crush, Carhart Building, as merchandize being added for May 1 opeing.

Crush flyer.
So that's three openings slated for May: the refurbished Hotel St. Oliver, the relocated Reruns and Union Avenue Books. With luck we might add Just Ripe to that list, but it turns out none of them will have the first opening of the month. That honor will go to Crush, a new store in the Old City. Located in the beautiful Carhart Building that currently houses Remedy Coffee among other businesses, Crush will open this Sunday, May 1, offering dresses, gifts, cupcakes!?! and other sundries. I'm excited to see that building achieving greater utilization. There is a huge amount of business activity in the Old City, 100 Block and particularly Jackson Avenue, but I will have to save that for the next business update.

Interior,front of the new Lunchbox, Market Street.

Interior of the Lunchbox, Market Street, Knoxville.
Meanwhile, the Lunchbox has already moved into it's new location on Market Street. As the name implies, it is a lunch spot and, as such, I've not been able to make it in there. You'll have to visit for me until I can be downtown during a business day. Here's wishing the Sproles the best in their new location.
Handbill on the entrance announces the opening of Bella Luna, 15 Market Square.
On the square a new restaurant was announced earlier this month on Property Scope: Bella Luna is taking the old Abode spot at 15 Market Square. The plan is to serve food based on that of Northern Italy. I'm not sure how they missed the memo about the western side of the square, but they are bucking the trend of Latin food offerings. It sounds like the owners are passionate about their offerings, so it should be interesting. I'll learn a little about the different parts of Italy, I suspect.

Newly widened sidewalk nears completion on Union Avenue.
A small, but important detail on Union Avenue between the square and Gay Street is the fact that the sidewalk project is finally showing some promise of eventually reaching completion. Unfortunately, it appears cars will still be allowed to park on that stretch of the street. It will be more pleasant to sit outside Coffee and Chocolate, given the wider sidewalk, but it would have been far nicer if cars didn't obstruct the views from that sidewalk. Honestly, I wish Union Avenue from Walnut to Gay, but that's just me hallucinating.
I think he was waving at me. Inside 36 Market Squre a wall is constructed.
At the other end of the square, progress is actually being made inside 36 Market Square. I'm still waiting for a tour of the inside.
Interior of the Arnstein Building - everything is being ripped out.

Arnstein Building - and carried out the door.
Finally, but importantly, something is finally happening at that jewel on the corner of Union and Market. The Arnstein building was given, provisionally I believe, a CBID grant to improve the facade. Initially trumpeted as a new location for an Urban Outfitters store, until that fell apart, most recently the building has been discussed as a cosmetology school for Paul Mitchell, but that has since been called into question as they have purchased property outside downtown. Since all signs point to the Miller's Building being occupied by a competing cosmetology school, I'm hoping something else is in store for the building. But what is the plan? Maybe David Dewhirst would like to comment below and tell us. If not, I'll keep watching and let you know what I learn.

That's all I have time for today. Be sure to check out the Dogwood Arts Parade on Gay Street tonight and the amazing chalk drawings on Market Square Saturday morning. After you go to the opening of Crush on Sunday, take a nap. It's going to be a beautiful, fun weekend in the city.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chattanooga vs. Knoxville Smackdown Finale: The Differences and the Verdict

Chattanooga AquariumImage by (aka Brent) via Flickr

In terms of tourist star-power, Chattanooga will probably always have the advantage. Their aquarium is extremely well known and is adjacent to an IMAX theater. Both sit near the river and on the riverfront, visitors may choose between a riverboat ride or a ride on the more adventurous Duck tours. They also have a minor-league baseball stadium downtown and, while not downtown, the specter of the Chattanooga Choo-choo, Ruby Falls, Rock City and Lookout Mountain loom large.
What does Knoxville have to answer the above? I'm afraid, not very much. Each of those attractions bring people to Chattanooga who otherwise would not have made the trip. What brings people to Knoxville? Well, the Vols, of course, but those are prescribed dates. We have conventions and events, but they have those, as well.

Knoxville Riverfront definitely needs work.
Riverfront development seems farther along in Chattanooga. I read a comment on a blog recently in which the writer mentioned that Chattanooga has a tremendous advantage over Knoxville because Chattanooga has a river. It was a telling comment because, of course, not only do we have a river, we have the same river and it comes to us first! So how could this person be so confused? I think it’s because we are so high on the bluff above our waterfront that there is no easy, clearly marked way to get there from downtown for an out-of-town visitor. This is an important problem that Knoxville must tackle in order to fully exploit the potential that sits just at the bottom of that very steep hill. Chattanooga also has extensive trails along the river accompanied by a sculpture garden within walking distance of downtown.

There are other differences that seem to counterbalance: We have a dog park and they do not. They have very cool, free, electric shuttles. Compared to our noisy gasoline-powered trolleys, they have a very clear edge. Why can’t we go electric?
Downtown Grocery Store, Chattanooga, TN
Downtown Chattanooga has a grocery store and a Dollar General Store, but no wine or liquor store that I could see. The grocery store, however, looked almost dilapidated and would we want a Dollar General Store on Gay Street? As for the wine and liquor store, I think most people would agree that’s an asset for our downtown.
Family Dollar Store, Downtown Chattanooga, TN
But if you want to visit a city, not as a tourist, but to enjoy an urban experience what do you want? You want to eat at excellent or cool restaurants, you want a good cup of coffee in an independent coffee shop, you want some entertainment and you’d like to shop. This is where the distinction between the two downtown areas becomes a stark contrast.
212 Market, Chattanooga, TN
I was shocked to find such a small number of quality restaurants available in downtown Chattanooga. We ate at 212 Market several times during our visit simply because it was the primary option for better dining – and it was excellent. They emphasize local produce and fresh food and I’d be delighted to eat there again. We did, however, eat on their outside deck and realized that there were very few people to watch and we had to speak over a constant roar of traffic. We missed the great people-watching and pleasant sounds of pedestrian traffic on Market Square.
There were two barbecue restaurants and one of these, Sticky Fingers, is a chain. I’ve enjoyed it before, but on this trip it was not so good. There are a couple of Mexican restaurants, one of which is a much smaller, slightly lower quality version of our Blue Coast Burrito. Other options include Panera Bread and Applebees. I spotted one deli and they do have a vegan restaurant.
Closed Hair of the Dog Pub faces Applebees, Sign Reads "Eat Local/Drink Local"
Do you realize there are currently ten different restaurants on Market Square along with two delis, two ice-cream/Shaved Ice spots and two more restaurants on the way? That will make fourteen places to eat a meal on Market Square. Only two of them, Subway and Blue Coast Burrito, are chains. This is not to mention all the places to eat on Gay Street or surrounding blocks and the Old City. There is no comparison in quality of food and quantity of choices. And as for entertainment, I saw one pretty cool looking bar, but no more. Again, compared to our Old City alone, what can you even say?
Recently opened club at 807 Market St., Chattanooga, TN
And where are the cool coffee houses? Outside of Starbucks inside the Read House, there is no place downtown to get a good cup of coffee. I remember a small place there years ago with excellent coffee and numerous chess boards. I loved that little shop. Now it is gone and nothing has replaced it. This is simply not civilization, people. With multiple choices of locally owned shops in which to purchase a very fine cup of coffee in downtown Knoxville, this category – which is very important to me – is easily one that Knoxville wins in a no-contest ruling.
Hallmark Store, Downtown Chattanooga, TN

As for shopping, they have a Hallmark that closes at 5:00, a couple of high-end men’s clothing stores which also close in the afternoon and one very small dress shop. That’s it. Mast General Store alone overwhelms those meager offerings. When you add all our other downtown shops such as Rala, Fizz, Bliss, Bliss Home, Earth to Old City, The Fortunate Traveler, Unarmed Merchants, The Art Gallery and Union Avenue Books, the comparison is simply overwhelming in Knoxville’s favor.
Which brings up the most damning comparison of all for downtown Chattanooga: As far as I can tell, no one lives there and no one local goes there. After nightfall the streets were dead. I could not spot anything that looked like apartments or condos. Nearby areas have some limited housing, but I saw nothing downtown.
So the major difference is that we have people downtown. Knoxville is a fun place to visit, not for an attraction, but for the entire urban experience and it is because our downtown is full of life. That never gets old. After you’ve visited Chattanooga’s tourist attractions, what reason is there to return? I won’t hesitate to return to Chattanooga when there is a conference or concert I want to attend, but for my urban delight, I’ll happily stay in downtown Knoxville.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chattanooga vs. Knoxville Smackdown, Part Two: The Similarities

While to me the differences were much more vivid, there were some similarities between downtown Chattanooga and Knoxville. Several small similarities were almost funny. I tend to think of the Metropulse as our small, independent alternative paper, but in fact, it is owned by Scripps, a major newspaper conglomerate. I was reminded of this fact when I saw The Pulse, a free alternative weekly paper available at locations all over downtown Chattanooga. Even some of the content was the same.

Downtown Mart, Chattanooga, April 2011
I stopped and laughed on the street when I saw their “Downtown Mart,” which has wigs in the window. Of course, we are losing our Jay’s Megamart, but they were so similar it was sort of like seeing your reflection ina  mirror when you don't expect to and thinking, "I know that person." I almost wonder if they have the same owner.

Empty Storefront, Broad Street, Chattanooga, April 2011

Empty Storefront, Broad Street, Chattanooga, April 2011
While they do not have the number of large buildings downtown that we have, they have comparably empty or forsaken buildings to our Pennys Building or the large buildings just off Summit Hill on State Street. There are also large stretches on those two main roads which are either empty or occupied by parking lots. I suspect this is where the large buildings used to sit. If so, it appears we've saved more than they have saved, though we lost our share. There were many boarded-up, vacant smaller buildings in evidence. Both places have their blight and empty buildings to deal with.

Empty lots on Market Street, Chattanooga, April 2011
Knoxville has a significant number of homeless people downtown, but I saw the same thing in Chattanooga. I was approached and asked for money, just as I have been in Knoxville and, in fact, the woman who approached me used to live in Knoxville and knew all the various support agencies in our downtown. She lived in subsidized housing downtown and, if it was the building I think it was, it reminded me of our Summit Towers. 
Bizarre Used Book Store, Broad Street, Chattanooga, April 2011
They are struggling to maintain a presence for books downtown, just as we have been. I saw two book stores almost across the street from each other and got excited, only to return later and find that one has gone out of business and and the other might consider that option. It was difficult to walk very far into the store because of the debris piled in every direction. It felt like a warehouse with antiques and old, not so attractive books in an extremely disorganized space. For now we are similar in the book arena, but given that we have Central Street books just out of downtown Knoxville proper and Union Avenue books on the way, this will soon change from a similarity to an advantage for Knoxville.
Plaza at MLK and Market, Chattanooga, April 2011
Plaza at MLK and Market, Chattanooga, April 2011
They also have a cool, small park and so do we. Ours is bigger and more of a typical park while theirs is more a plaza, but at least each had a pleasant spot to bring the family or a special somebody and spend some time.

So, there you are: the similarities I found were largely the negative ones, homelessness, decay, a lack of books, with a nice park or plaza for each thrown in for good measure. Tomorrow I will examine the differences which I found most striking and draw a few conclusions.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Breaking News: Market Square Kitchen Closes

Market Square Kitchen, 1 Market Square, Knoxville, 2004 - 2011
 I don't usually do more than one blog a day - simply because I have an actual life, but this couldn't really wait. I'll do my regular blog tomorrow, but for now I wanted to get the word out that Market Square Kitchen officially closed and cleared out the last of their tables, chairs and other items today. It had occupied that spot since 2004 when it replaced the Soup Kitchen. The business may reappear, but not in downtown Knoxville.
1 Market Square, Knoxville, Empty, April 26, 2011
It appears a new tenant will be forthcoming and the restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and will be directly affiliated with the new Hotel St. Oliver. At the moment, that leaves one new business, an empty building, an empty store-front and a soon-to-be-closed store-front on the four corners of Market Square. The situation won't last, of course, but it is striking to consider since those are four of the premier addresses on the square.

1 Market Square, Knoxville, April 26, 2011
I'll have more details as part of a downtown business update on Friday. Check back then for more. Now: back to our regular programming.

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Chattanooga vs. Knoxville: The Smackdown Intro

Chattanooga Skyline from Lookout MountainImage by (aka Brent) via Flickr
Chattanooga Skyline

Last week I mentioned, in a post available below, that I recently took a trip to Chattanooga and it changed my perspective on both Chattanooga and Knoxville. I'll say at the outset that I'm comparing the main portion of Chattanooga by the river, mostly up and down Broad and Market Streets to our downtown. That may not be a fair comparison to someone who knows Chattanooga well, but, as I'll explain, it is a fair comparison for my comments.

I'd previously visited this area of Chattanooga many times for various reasons from concerts, to trips to tourist attractions to work-related conferences and short day trips for fun. I was a bit jealous of the area I mentioned above. Why couldn't Knoxville do something similar? I accepted that it was a long, hard climb to be as cool as Asheville, but Chattanooga? How could we let this happen?

I think there was a discussion on Knoxnews within the last year and I spoke up for Knoxville, but in my heart I remembered how pleasant our visits to Chattanooga had been and I secretly knew they had it over us going and coming.
Eastward view of the skyline of downtown Knoxv...Image via Wikipedia
Knoxville Skyline - Image via Wikipedia
Of course, I know downtown Knoxville much more intimately than I did the last time I traveled to Chattanooga. It had been four years since I really looked around their downtown. Among the other things that have changed in the interim is the astounding development we've experienced. Both cities have their assets and both have their problems, their similarities and differences. A simple walk through their downtown revealed plenty of each.
So I’ll do a little comparison and contrast. I’ve set a poll at the top which you might wish to vote now or you may choose to wait until you’ve read the next couple of posts. Should any of my Chattanooga readers wish to enlighten me, I’ll welcome that. All I’ve got are my honest impressions, so that’s what I’ll give you. Tomorrow we’ll do similarities between the two and I’ll follow that on Thursday with differences and a conclusion.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Dirty Guv'nahs: Night Two or The Last Waltz for the Bijou?

It has become impossible for me to say which Dirty Guv'nahs concert is best or even better than another. They are all generally spectacular or memorable in their own way. Last night was no exception though, at the least, I think I can pronounce it the concert with the best encore/coda.
The Features opening for the Dirty Guv'nahs, Bijou, Knoxville, April 2011
The night opened with The Features. It was the second consecutive Nashville opener and in introducing them, James declared that they are his favorite band in Tennessee. They were interesting. The energy level was very high, which made them entertaining enough. The vocals were odd, quirky and interesting, but in place of what should have been solos, the band just played really loud and fast. Apparently the only instrument in which they are interested in spotlighting was the whistling of the lead vocalist. Interesting? Yes. Worthy of being anybody's favorite band in Tennessee? I don't think so.

Wayne Chishom introduces the Dirty Guv'nahs, Bijou, Knoxville, April 2011

Cozmo rocking a solo, Dirty Guv'nahs, Bijou, April 2011
Wayne Chisholm introduced the band and the night took off. It's hard for me to name particular songs as standouts in the main set. I enjoyed Brown Little Bird and I'm always happy to hear Oh, Jericho, which James said was played in response to a request on Facebook. Chris apparently worked so hard on the keyboard that it completly fell apart. The bottom set of keys became detached, fell to the floor and ultimately had to be clamped into place with a vice grip and supported with a stool. They played their way through their entire catalog, reaching back to their earliest work, which is no longer available, through songs off their current album, Youth is in Our Blood, and onto unreleased and, as yet, unnamed songs.
Clowning during "Baby We Were Young"

Dirty Guv'nahs joined by the Lenoir City High School Choir
As he's done many times, James annointed this the best night ever for the Dirty Guv'nahs. In that regard he hasn't changed. As I watched the concert and reflected on the group's first five years, I realized they had changed tremendously in other ways. They are far better musicians and the band is miles from where they started as an overall unit. I also thought how much more mature James seems, both as a frontman and a person. Five years is a significant span of time in the life of a young person.

James climbs onto the drum stand and joins the choir.

Going balistic during "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
I remembered how an immature and foolish James had jumped from the stage of Barley's Taproom years ago only to have the crowd part and provide him with an unimpeded trip to the floor. He's so much more mature I was thinking . . . then he did it, again. I couldn't believe my eyes. The guy got a running start and hurled himself outstretched into the Bijou Theater. By all accounts he made another clean fall to the floor once more. Memo to James: Keep the theatrics on the stage. You've tried it twice. Give it up, dude. We love you, man. We don't want to lose you.

Cozmo foreground, his dad behind him on bass and his brother directing the choir.
James promised the encore would be one never to be forgotten and he was dead on. A couple of horns added spice to the later part of the show, giving it just that much more punch, infusing the music with a taste of southern fried soul, bringing to mind those great recordings by Stax Records in the late sixties on the other end of our state. For the encore they kept the brass and added a choir from Lenoir City High School. I've got to tell you brothers and sisters, those white children rocked the house. They sounded like a gospel choir in an A.M.E. Zion Baptist Church.

Happy Choir, Happy Guv'nahs say goodnight
The first song was one I didn't know, though it was great, but I'm proud to say I predicted the finale before the encore began: You Can't Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones. When the Dirty Guv'nahs do the Rolling Stones it is always special. Give them a choir and this particular song and the roof is likely to blow. And it did.With his Dad pounding the bass and his brother directing the choir Cozmo brought the house on the lead guitar while James flailed all about the stage, apparently no worse for wear after the ill-advised dive, and sang like there was no tomorrow.

James adds a poignant coda to an amazing night.
A phenominal night ended with the choir and the band taking bows. Or did it? After probably two thirds of the audience had exited, with the house lights up and recorded music playing over the PA, the lights went out once more. After a few moments of confusion, James walked back out onto the stage as if he could not bear to let the night end. He played "Aimee May" off the now out-of-print "Don't Need No Money" EP, accoustic and solo. He left the stage declaring that this would be the last time the Guv'nahs would play the Bijou. He said the next time would be down the street at the Tennesee.

Maybe this was the last waltz for the Dirty Guv'nahs in this small a venue in Knoxville. While I'd miss seeing them in smaller spaces, I hope it happens for them. They deserve to be huge. They are doing their part, here's hoping the industry gods and timing are on their side.
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