|City Finishes First Steps on North Central Street Transformation
|December 12, 2008 -
City contractors finished the first steps this week to transforming North Central Street into what will become a mixed-use zone featuring residential and retail elements facing a pedestrian-friendly street.
Crews had been working this month to re-stripe a six-block section along the heart of North Central – from Woodland Avenue to Pearl Place - which includes the Happy Hollow section at the intersection of Anderson and North Central. They finished the detail painting work on Tuesday.
“We have taken a four-lane street and turned it into a three-lane street with traffic moving in each direction and a turn lane in the center and added bicycling lanes and on-street parking,” said Bob Whetsel, the City of Knoxville’s Director of Redevelopment.
Whetsel said the idea behind the work, “is to enhance the business environment at Happy Hollow by including parking spaces, plus having a three-lane street slows the traffic down and makes it easier for people to cross from one side to the other.”
Both sides of North Central in that area are home to new businesses and there has been considerable interest in developing the area in terms of residences, retail and office establishments in recent years.
The work is the first step in the City of Knoxville’s comprehensive effort to help residents and business owners develop Downtown North into a thriving commercial and residential district. The city is trying to expand the successes it has seen in downtown Knoxville to the north.
North Central and Broadway are the two main thoroughfares of Downtown North, which is defined by Depot Street on the south, I-275 to the west, Woodland Avenue to the north and Hall of Fame Drive on the east.
North Central is the initial focus of the Downtown North effort and the city plans to continue work there next year. That work will include a continuation of the road diet which should make North Central a friendlier place for pedestrians, bikers and shoppers while maintaining good automobile traffic flow.
“This was just the first step,” Whetsel said. “Eventually we hope to make these types of improvements on Central all the way to Jackson Avenue and the Old City in downtown.”
City officials have held a series of meeting, beginning last summer, with residents and business owners in the area to discuss plans for Downtown North and get input on them from the people who live and work there.
The city had committed to finishing the first phase of work along North Central before the end of the year.
Whetsel said the city is currently studying other potential projects in Downtown North that would increase connectivity to downtown for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists and there will be further public meetings as those plans take shape.
All the work in Downtown North is being done by leveraging existing city resources in the operating budget and city departments are working together, along with other agencies like the Metropolitan Planning Commission and Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation, to turn the plans into a reality.
The city’s Engineering Department, for example, used its operating dollars for the recent North Central work.
Whetsel said the city would like to begin work south of Baxter Avenue next summer after the Knoxville Utilities Board completes a wastewater improvements project there that is set to begin early next year.
“Downtown North is a neighborhood where a lot of people have expressed an interest in living or operating businesses,” Whetsel said, “and the city is looking at things it can do to support those interests. It’s a great place and we want it to thrive.”
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