Knoxville’s Market Square named one of 15 Great Places in America

10/12/2017

Market Square is a beloved place in Knoxville, and it looks like the downtown locale's appeal goes beyond the Scruffy City.

The American Planning Association has named Market Square as one of 15 locations for its 2017 Great Places in America, according to a news release from the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Those 15 places are divided into three categories of five: Great Neighborhoods, Great Streets and Great Public Spaces.

Market Square is one of the five Great Public Spaces.

APA's Great Places in America program highlights streets, neighborhoods and public spaces in the United States that demonstrate "exceptional character, quality, and planning — attributes that enrich communities, facilitate economic growth, and inspire others around the country," the release said.

Public spaces "demonstrate how to effectively create a sense of place that enhances the lives of all residents and visitors," Cynthia Bowen, president of APA, said in the release.

The problems of the past

Market Square has had its share of struggles. It endured a fire and wasn't always a thriving destination.

At its lowest, in the mid-late 1990s, Market Square was deserted and in disrepair, Bill Lyons, Knoxville's chief policy officer and deputy to the mayor, said.

“Buildings were literally falling in … one of the two buildings that Café 4 (now uses) was almost a hazmat site, seriously. It was inches from total collapse,” Lyons said.

Many different proposals and months of committee meetings brought the city the plans for the Market Square seen today.

“The bones were all around, and the square and Gay Street were there just waiting to take off if we could just get our ducks in a row politically and with the city," Lyons said.

Market Square's offerings today

Nearly 20 years later Market Square features a variety of restaurants and shops.

Many public events, including a farmers market, are held in the square throughout the year. In the winter months, a skating rink is set up.

Someone strolling through Market Square is likely to find musicians or street performers.

Artists are located in nearby galleries or sell during special events held around Market Square and Krutch Park.

“Even with no events, people want to come down,” Lyons said. “It’s packed all the time because it’s a nice place to go and just be. It has the authenticity to it.”

Most of the buildings on the west and east sides have remained since the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Accessible parking, with several-city owned parking garages that are free during evenings and weekends, plus a public restroom, add to the attraction.

'Magical' for tourism

Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville, said Market Square’s revival has been tremendous for the city’s economics and tourism industry. Downtown Knoxville wouldn’t be the same without it, she said.

“From a tourism angle, it's magical what it’s done for Knoxville … it created this awesome little nucleus right around everything (with) new and exciting chefs and new restaurants, which brought more (retail).”

In addition to Knoxville's Market Square, APA's four other Great Public Spaces include Mill Creek Linear Park in Bakersfield, California; Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, Michigan; County Home Complex in Greenville, North Carolina; and San Angelo River Walk in San Angelo, Texas.

For more information on the American Planning Association and its Great Places in American list, visit https://www.planning.org/greatplaces/.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Maggie Jones, Tyler Whetstone

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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