Thankful for downtown living, despite a few drawbacks

Downtown resident Roy Cockrum making remarks at Kitchen 919 last year prior to the opening of “Candide” at the Clarence Brown Theatre. He was a major funder of the joint production by the Clarence Brown Theatre and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

My friend and client Roy Cockrum won the Tennessee Lottery — and a $153 million lump sum payout — five years ago. So, he literally could live anywhere he wants in the entire world. Guess where he chooses to live? Downtown Knoxville. And I agree with him. It’s the best place to live.

I was thinking over the Thanksgiving weekend about the many things for which I am grateful. And, in addition to my husband, cat, family, friends and business, I also would include living in downtown Knoxville among my life’s blessings. Downtown living is just special.

Over the course of my nearly 40 years residing in Knoxville, I have lived in some terrific neighborhoods, including more than a decade each in Concord Hills and Sequoyah Hills. But, as I often say, downtown Knoxville feels more like a “neighborhood” than either of those. Just by stepping out of your front door, you can see friends and neighbors, exchange pleasantries and news, and issue and receive all kinds of invitations to meals and entertainment options.

In the other neighborhoods, even though we knew and liked our neighbors (for the most part), we didn’t run into them quite as easily. We had to call them to make arrangements to see them or go somewhere with them.

Of course, downtown Knoxville life is not perfect. You know when you live in the middle of a city, there will be more noise — sirens and street cleaners and buses. I can accept that as part of the deal. To me, the worst thing, though, is the panhandlers. Not so much because they bother me — I’m used to it and many won’t even ask me for money anymore because I’ve turned them down so often. (We contribute to many charitable organizations that try to address the social problems.)

Downtown residents Jim Harness, left, and Ricky Kennedy last year at a “Trust Fall” dinner.

What I dislike the most about the panhandlers is that they make visitors to downtown — especially those who aren’t used to it — feel uncomfortable. I want the wonderful businesses that operate downtown to continue to thrive. So I don’t want guests to feel uncomfortable or threatened when they attend a show or restaurant. And it’s clear to me from living and working downtown for so long, that while some of the panhandlers have mental or substance issues, many of them are just professional panhandlers. That’s what they do for a living.

Anyway, I was curious about how other downtowners feel about the pros and cons of our mutual living situation. So, I asked them. Here’s what they said. What do you think?

So much to do!

“We often tell people that living downtown keeps us young,” Ricky Kennedy said. “If we were in the suburbs, we would go into the house in the evening, close the doors and watch TV or read, etc. Downtown, we can also do that; but, if we choose to go out our front door, there are hundreds of activities. Downtown is our neighborhood — most folks are surprised we are a close-knit community.”

Downtowners Jacque and Cliff Hawks, left, with Rick Blackburn last May at the opening of the Marriott hotel brands in downtown Knoxville.

“It’s a great urban environment with a view of the mountains,” Cockrum said. “There’s an incredible variety of restaurants, the Tennessee and Bijou Theatres and Regal Cinema all available within a short walk. It’s my one-block commute!” He also mentioned the Market Square Farmers’ Market and the lively Old City as attractions.

Jacque Hawks agreed. “The positive downtown community spirit and camaraderie among downtown residents and neighbors, easy access to great restaurants, live music/entertainment venues and the Farmers’ Market rank among our tops,” she said.

Lisa Skinner said she and her husband, Steve, enjoy “the sheer spontaneity” of downtown living. “If we don’t feel like making dinner, we have more than 100 restaurants within walking distance,” she said. “We can take in a spur-of-the-moment movie at Regal, which is two blocks away.” She said they often invite friends to come to a “downtown moveable feast” whereby they will stop at one eatery for drinks, another for appetizers, a different one for an entree and a fourth for dessert.

Downtown enthusiasts Lisa and Steve Skinner at a fundraiser for the Dogwood Arts Festival in 2012.

Interestingly, she said living downtown has been “the best thing” for their marriage because they can have a “date night” every night if they so choose.

Robin Thomas said living downtown is “almost like a Hallmark movie.” She said she walks much more than she did when she and her husband, Chris Crouch, lived in the suburbs 25 miles outside of Memphis. “I really like the size of downtown,” she said. “It’s big enough to have options for dinner and drinks — and certainly coffee. But it’s small enough that you almost always see someone on the street that you know.”

Robin Thomas and Chris Crouch at Ijams Nature Center’s Symphony in the Park in 2016. They love living downtown.

For his part, Chris said he personally feels good about living “at least a slightly more responsible” lifestyle, with a smaller home, lower utility use, one hybrid car “used sparingly” and the ability to walk to the post office, to the dentist, to get a haircut, to vote, to shop, to eat and to partake of entertainment. “It’s a simpler lifestyle overall,” he said.

Bill Lyons said he loves to take advantage of the free trolleys to go to the University of Tennessee or Publix for groceries. He also frequently jumps on the #11 bus to go to West Town Mall or somewhere else in West Knoxville. His wife, Gay, said that while many downtown residents have smaller homes than they did in suburbia, she likes the fact that there are so many nice hotels to accommodate their overnight visitors. And, she added, that Uber and Lyft drivers are constantly circling around downtown, so you never have to wait for them. “Don’t reserve one until you are ready to walk out the door!” she advised.

Alan Carmichael, left, with Bill and Gay Lyons this past summer at a Symphony ShowHouse in Regas Square.

Kim Henry appreciates the camaraderie that downtown living offers. “I have so many dear friends living downtown that I often wander out with no plans and end up running into a friend for a spontaneous afternoon or evening out.” Also, she noted, “I’m friends with the staff of several establishments, so I never have to go out alone.”

A few pet peeves

But, of course, nothing is perfect — not even downtown living. There are the panhandlers that I mentioned. And a few other drawbacks.

While I think there is an excellent police presence (thank you, Chief Eve Thomas and Mayor Madeline Rogero!), a couple of people said they sometimes get a little nervous. “Walking back home after dark, some areas are isolated,” said Susan Brown, who moved downtown from the Bearden area only a few months ago.

Haha! Kim Henry on New Year’s Eve 2018 at the Rebel Kitchen downtown.

Lisa Skinner agreed. “After 10 p.m., I don’t feel fully comfortable walking around by myself in the dark,” she said. “I realize that a panhandler is likely to hit me up for money or for my take-home box of food, but I haven’t made peace with the darkness yet.” She moved downtown from the Powell area in 2016.

Melinda Grimac moved downtown in 2013 from the Riverbend area of Knox County. The drawbacks she mentioned: graffiti, trash, cigarettes.

Rick Stone had similar complaints. “Homelessness, occasional noisy cars and dog owners who don’t ‘manage’ their pets’ excrements,” he listed as negatives.

Angela Howard listed panhandling, parking on University of Tennessee home football game days and noisy vehicles late at night. “I’m not bothered anymore by trains and sirens,” she added.

Melinda Grimac, center, at the recent opening of the new Knox Mason in downtown Knoxville. She’s with Davis and Natalie Dowling.

Robin Thomas said she wished downtown had more connection to the waterfront and that there were more “pedestrian only” areas. Her husband, Chris Crouch, said he wishes Henley Street were better designed for walkability and added he is “not a fan” of the scooters.

Angela Howard and Rick Stone at the Symphony Ball at Cherokee Country Club in 2016.

Georgiana Vines, who lives near the downtown fire station, said the fire truck sirens are annoying. “If I’m on the phone, I have to explain what’s happening and ask people to hold on for a minute or two.”

Cockrum agreed. When asked if there were any negatives, he quickly said, “Those damn fire truck air horns!”

Kim Henry said she feels a “need to be dressed and made up every time I leave the condo” is a disadvantage, whereas Eddie Reymond said there literally was nothing he didn’t like. “Whatever we didn’t like at first, we do now!” he said.

And, my favorite “negative” came from Monique Anderson, who moved downtown from Sequoyah Hills in 2011 when their home there was destroyed by a tree falling on it during a storm. “I eat out a lot, drink wine and have too much fun!” she said.

Hey, I’ll take it!

Monique Anderson last New Year’s Eve at Rebel Kitchen in the Old City.

Then-governor Bill Haslam and Georgiana Vines at a fundraiser last year for the Lincoln Memorial University John J. Duncan, Jr. School of Law.

Susan Brown enjoying banana pudding at the new Knox Mason a few weeks ago.

Eddie Reymond, center, welcoming Steve Cotham, left, and Ricky Kennedy to a tour of his home in the historic Ely Building last year.



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12 Responses to Thankful for downtown living, despite a few drawbacks

  1. Pam Rhoades, on December 6th, 2019 at 10:06 am said:

    We lived in downtown Indianapolis for a number of years (before kids)! We loved it and plan on living downtown again in Knoxville. Would like to have a small grocery/market downtown though before we do.

    Our son, Austen, just moved to Marble Alley this week and is loving it. I applaud him for making the move downtown instead of Turkey Creek or Farragut!

  2. Alan Carmichael, on December 6th, 2019 at 10:32 am said:

    Downtown is walkable and remarkable. Plus historical, memorable, shoppable, cultural, theatrical, musical, sociable, transformational, edible, sustainable, livable. Not to mention lovable and unstoppable. Any more?

  3. Carol Bradley, on December 6th, 2019 at 11:42 am said:

    I absolutely love staying downtown when I come from Montana to visit my mom in memory care. I need to keep my meniscus-repaired knee in good walking order and the perfect place to do that is downtown Knoxville. I just step out the door and go exploring. I’m amazed at how different downtown is from my days at UT in the late 1970s.

  4. sara pinnell, on December 6th, 2019 at 3:51 pm said:

    Love this!!! I moved here in 2003 and it has just become better and better!

  5. Georgiana Vines, on December 6th, 2019 at 4:15 pm said:

    I wanted to live downtown long before I did. I decided I either needed to make the move or quit thinking about it. In 2011, I downsized and moved. It was very cathartic. I have never regretted it.

  6. Gay Lyons, on December 6th, 2019 at 4:45 pm said:

    Best neighborhood ever. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. You beautifully summed up all the reasons we love it so much, & the photos are evidence of just some of the good times.

  7. Missy Sprouse, on December 6th, 2019 at 8:04 pm said:

    Love this piece!!! Although I have been a full-time resident ofWyoming since 2006 I have lived and had a place in downtown Knoxville since 2002. The downtown community is just that …a community. Downtown residents watch out for each other….even some of the permanent homeless population. My boys and I had many sweet exchanges with our homeless friends when we lived on the 100 block of Gay Street. In fact, when the boys were young they had a weekly chess lesson from a homeless resident at Volunteer Ministry Center across the street from our loft. One thing I do religiously when I am in town is walk down Gay street from the bridge to the old Regas Restaurant. It has been a joy to watch the growth of commerce and infrastructure of downtown Knoxville grow. I have always loved Christmas time downtown it is especially beautiful and festive, but was recently home for about a week and was blown away by the beauty and the colors in Krutch Park. We have a loft in the Arnstein Building…my father-in-law, Mac Sprouse occupied an office in our living room when he worked for TVA years ago before the towers were built. I am thankful for the visionaries that invested their time, funds and vision for our beautiful and happy urban environment. I am thankful for our Urban Wilderness. I am thankful that my boys and I got to experience and be part of the growth. Love, love, love our downtown community. Thank you for this wonderful puece.

  8. Sandi Swilley, on December 6th, 2019 at 10:32 pm said:

    Love love love living downtown! Best decision I ever made.❤️

  9. Bill Horton, on December 7th, 2019 at 1:19 am said:

    When I was a student at UT in the ’70’s, I would never have guessed downtown Knoxville would become the wonderful neighborhood it is today. In my opinion, it has become THE neighborhood in Knoxville!

  10. Kim Henry, on December 7th, 2019 at 7:34 am said:

    Great piece! I love, love, love living Downtown!

  11. Krissy DeAlejandro, on December 8th, 2019 at 6:40 am said:

    Jeffrey and I are celebrating our 4th Christmas as downtowners! I love that our kids are exposed to all sorts of different cultures with all the activities being a small walk from our home! Always something to do!

  12. Monique Anderson, on December 8th, 2019 at 8:02 am said:

    I love my friends downtown!

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