A retirement that’s hard to celebrate; but we tried!

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Rick Emmett, Knoxville’s downtown coordinator, at one of his retirement parties last week.

Downtowners — residents and business owners — attended a festive party at Radius Rooftop Lounge recently to celebrate Rick Emmett’s retirement from his position as downtown coordinator for the City of Knoxville. But I think I speak for everyone when I say we had to force ourselves to put on a happy face at the event.

Don’t get me wrong. After working for the City of Knoxville for over 30 years under the leadership of five different mayors, Emmett, 67, deserves his retirement. But he’s done such a good job as downtown coordinator for the past 12 years, that many of us are concerned about him leaving. His duties are to be divided among several others at City Hall. Point person will be another friend of ours, Chip Barry, the deputy chief of operations, but downtown coordinating will not be his only job, as it was Emmett’s.

“Rick is one of those rare people who has been in public service a long time, but has no enemies!” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said at the farewell event hosted by the Downtown Knoxville Alliance. “Rick anticipates problems. But when he comes to me, he doesn’t just bring the problem, he brings a solution.” She added that she always was confident that Rick “had my back.”

Rick Emmett with Martha Boggs, owner of Bistro at the Bijou, at his retirement party.

Emmett is a consummate relationship person. And this has been particularly important in his role as downtown coordinator. He knows everyone from the street people — he can call them by name — to the business owners. He also knows when to use what some of us call “the special ops unit.” This means sometimes things “just happen” and problems get solved. But it might not be through the normal bureaucratic processes.

Case in point. Several years ago, a well-known habitual vagrant set up headquarters on a bench on the 100 block of Gay Street. Day after day, the same person would occupy the bench from sunup to sunset and beyond. Residents and business people on that block lodged numerous complaints with the City. Not about the person for being there all day every day, but for the massive amounts of debris and garbage the person would surround themself with during the day and leave behind every night. The residents and businesses were tired of cleaning up the mess every morning. But it didn’t really seem to rise to the level of a police matter. So, what could be done?

Here’s what happened. One night, after weeks of complaints, the bench just disappeared! Poof! It just vanished with no explanation. Problem solved.  Nobody got arrested or ticketed. The problem just ended. Now, of course, the vagrant went somewhere else, but the people on the 100 block got some relief. They were relieved of the need to do a massive cleanup every morning. And they were ecstatic with the solution. I could cite numerous other examples, but I think you get the idea. As Mayor Kincannon said, Emmett “thinks outside the box.”

Bette and Don Emmett, Rick’s parents, came from Kentucky for his retirement party.

Emmett says he has no specific post-retirement plans. He is a talented amateur musician and songwriter. And, based on his long government tenure, there could be consulting opportunities. But, speaking for his downtown friends, we hope he’s not a stranger here!

And we hope that downtown continues to get the special attention it needs. It is, after all, Knoxville’s living room. This is the part of town we put on display to visitors. Businesses and residences literally are stacked on top of each other, and the vagrancy issue is particularly acute. Downtown needs to be clean, safe and attractive in order to help the whole of Knoxville continue to thrive.

(My friend Georgiana Vines wrote a column about Emmett’s retirement for the Knoxville News Sentinel. You can read it here. Mike Steely of The Focus did a great interview with him. You can read it here. )

Friends celebrating Rick Emmett’s retirement at Radius Rooftop Lounge. From left, Erin Gill, David Brace, Melinda Whetsel, Bill Lyons, Bob Whetsel and Cheryl Ball.

Emmett’s wife, Alta, right, and former Knoxville First Lady Cathy Brown.

John McCord, a lawyer and owner of Downtown Grill & Brewery, with Michele Hummel, executive director of the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.

Emmett, center, with Tom Bugg and Becky Hancock. Bugg, who I often refer to as “the hardest working man in show biz,” is general manager of both the Tennessee and Bijou theaters. Hancock is executive director of the Tennessee Theatre.

Emmett with Alan Sims of the “Inside of Knoxville” blog.

Enjoying the lovely day on the deck, from left, Ellie Moore, Charlotte Tolley and Jennifer Searle. Moore and Tolley are with Nourish Knoxville, which runs the Market Square Farmers’ Market; Searle is with the Mayor’s office.

The best things about Radius Rooftop Lounge, natch, are the views! Here’s a shot looking west.

A view to the north.

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan, left; U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Poplin; Emmett; and Lee Sherbakoff.

Scott Schimmel, left, who owns Bliss, and Liza Zenni, executive director of the Arts & Culture Alliance.

Downtown residents, from left, Melinda Grimac, Lorie Huff Matthews and Karen Sims.

Food was catered by KoPita, located in the Embassy Suites hotel where Radius Rooftop Lounge is.

My plate. I love a combination of hummus and baba ganoush!

Three folks from Visit Knoxville. From left, Kim Bumpas, president, with Shera Petty and Robin Pate.

From left, Judith Foltz, Chip Barry and Becky Hancock, executive director of the Tennessee Theatre.

Elaine Frank, from the City’s office of special events; Sam Maynard, executive director of James White’s Fort; and City Councilmember Janet Testerman.

Here’s Rick Emmett, center, with former Knox County Trustee and City Councilmember Ed Shouse, left, and downtown developer Leigh Burch III.

Bill Lyons, longtime City of Knoxville executive who’s currently at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, and Robin Thomas of the Downtown Knoxville Alliance.

A bunch of Visit Knoxville folks! From left, Shera Petty, Robin Pate, Nicole Merlino, Kelli Gibson, Angie Wilson and Kim Bumpas.

Siblings Paula and Scott West, major downtown retail developers.

Emmett and Ilana Brodt, who owns several downtown businesses including KoPita.

Former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown, left, with Ed Shouse.

Alan Carmichael, left, with former Knoxville Vice Mayor Joe Bailey.

Emmett with, from left, his wife, Alta, and parents, Don and Bette.

Mayor Indya Kincannon making remarks.

From left, Ken and Brenda Mills and Emmett’s sister, Jill Blake, from Kentucky. Ken is the developer of 30 Market Square, which he sold to Scott West; Brenda owns Art Market Gallery on Gay Street.


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8 Responses to A retirement that’s hard to celebrate; but we tried!

  1. Bob Alcorn, on March 10th, 2023 at 2:26 pm said:

    Rick will be missed in a BIG way! Have a happy retirement friend.

  2. Madeline Rogero, on March 10th, 2023 at 4:03 pm said:

    This is one party I really hated to miss! I was out of town, so thanks, Cynthia, for these pictures and a summary of the celebration. I loved working with Rick – he was the consummate professional and a genuinely kind and wonderful co-worker. He will be greatly missed by the City and by all the people with whom he came into contact downtown. He certainly has earned his retirement!

  3. Jennifer L Holder, on March 10th, 2023 at 4:41 pm said:

    Rick’s steady leadership will be missed! I wish him and Alta the very best.

  4. Gay Lyons, on March 10th, 2023 at 8:01 pm said:

    Hosting an event at the History Center preventing me from attending this event. I hated to miss it & for sure hate to see Rick leave. He has done a great job.

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on March 10th, 2023 at 8:02 pm said:

    Bob, Mayor Rogero, and Jennifer: You all are so correct. Mayor, thanks so much for supporting Rick and downtown during your tenure. We appreciate you.

  6. Cynthia Moxley, on March 10th, 2023 at 8:06 pm said:

    Gay: We missed you. But understand you were doing your part to make downtown great, too!

  7. Nancy Harvey, on March 11th, 2023 at 5:32 pm said:

    Congratulation on your retirement, Rick! You don’t know me but I’m from Middlesboro, now living in Knoxville. Sounds like you are a special person & perfect for that job

  8. Cynthia Moxley, on March 15th, 2023 at 10:08 pm said:

    Nancy: You are so right!

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