After the thousands of hours of community-wide planning and dialogue over the last seven years, the vote Tuesday seemed almost perfunctory.
But City Council’s authorization for Mayor Indya Kincannon to accept two quit-claim deeds from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and finalize the transfer of ownership of 119 acres along James White Parkway to the City marks a milestone that will benefit City residents for generations to come.
“In recent years, the City was successful in changing the vision – and that vision has expanded exponentially,” Engineering Director Harold Cannon said. “We’re now moving forward in creating a park and new Urban Wilderness amenities and connectivity with neighborhoods. This has been a key dream since the genesis of the Urban Wilderness.”
Urban Wilderness Coordinator Rebekah Jane Montgomery said the transfer of land south of the bridge across the Tennessee River to the terminus at Sevierville Pike, including Baker Creek Preserve, is “an important milestone.”
“We’ve switched gears from one big planning concept to another – moving from a one-dimensional road extension to a multi-modal community-serving concept that connects people with a new park and new outdoor recreation amenities,” Montgomery said.
“We haven’t gotten away from James White Parkway continuing to function as a route for motorists. Our Urban Wilderness plan will assure traffic-flow capacity for special events and local traffic and even emergency detours. But it also will better serve South Knoxville neighborhoods and eventually improve connections with downtown and East Knoxville.”
At its June 2 meeting, City Council also approved a $231,355 contract with Gresham Smith traffic consultants to prepare an Urban Wilderness corridor study, expanding preliminary traffic-flow research and evaluating future vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian needs and how to best design connecting road networks.
Meanwhile, the $10 million first phase of the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park Project is nearing completion. This summer, look for the Baker Creek Bike Park to open, as parking, connector roads and greenways are built and utility upgrades are completed.
The Gresham Smith traffic study, along with a final design for the Urban Wilderness Gateway Park pavilion being submitted to TDOT for its review by September 2020, are next steps in refining and implementing the Urban Wilderness concept plan.
“We’re starting to bite off pieces of the Urban Wilderness plan,” Montgomery said. “That means dialing in and shaping it to an exact fit for Knoxville, based on what stakeholders are telling us they want. We’re seeing exciting momentum this summer, but overall, this is a long-term work in progress that will take some time to fully implement.”