Let’s plan for an eastside economic summit

Nick Della Volpe
Features columnist

Ever been to Turkey Creek during the holiday season? Long traffic queues, scarce parking slots, crowded store aisles, slow checkouts. Kinda makes a root canal look attractive … at least to us guys. Too much of a good thing.

Meanwhile, buyers in the east end of the county are left to wonder where are all those farsighted entrepreneurs with pockets full of discretionary dollars waiting for a suitable outlet. No wonder the likes of Amazon are prospering.

It has been suggested that we need to plan an eastside economic summit. What’s that? It’s a gathering of the several business and professional organizations and area neighborhood groups to help define what is needed and would do well here. A catalogue of what the area has to offer. Finally, a joint meeting with businesses and developers to hone a game plan.

There are active BPAs in the north, east, East Towne and Fountain City areas. Also, a dozen or so established neighborhood groups that are the very bedrock of stability. It’s time to join forces and brainstorm our future, and to educate the greater business community to look beyond the pre-conceived perceptions that are sometimes less-than-kind and mostly unfair, and see what is truly an untapped and desirable market. The truth is there are great communities and great people who live out here. Despite the errant actions of a few – of course, we have those – and the out-of -proportion news reporting sensationalism that unfairly tar its image, the sun has always risen in the east. Time for a second look. We have a lot to offer.

Among our strengths are great neighborhoods with great people! And good roads. We are surrounded by rural towns and counties to the north and east that consider Knoxville their commercial center. They shop and dine here. It’s time we focus on and advertise those eastside assets and opportunities to the sleeping business world.

Good things are already happening.

The Magnolia corridor is about to get a $4.7 million infrastructure facelift by the city. The Botanical Garden and Arboretum is expanding its already amazing presence, as is the heavily-visited tourist attraction called Zoo Knoxville, as well as the many events and shows at Chillhowee Park and the newly-restored Fountain City Lake.

The East Towne business district has a number of fine businesses with a regional draw and improving interstate access. Look at the expansions of Sam’s Club and Walmart, or the constant foot traffic at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target.

Did I mention the booming commercial tenants at Forks-of-the-River industrial park? Or the planned development at Midway Road and EastBridge?

As for residential neighborhoods, Fountain City is a bedrock community, as are Holston Hills, North Hills, Park Ridge and Park City, Alice Bell, Fourth and Gill, and Old North Knoxville to name a few. In older areas, historic homes have been coming back to life through the vision, investment and sweat equity poured in by young families moving back into the city. And, if you didn’t notice, northeast Knox County has been one of the fastest growing housing markets for subdivision development according to the 2010 census.

So what’s not to like? The opportunity is here. Ready to be tapped.

How to begin? With help from the city, the Chamber and meeting facilitators, the BPAs and neighborhood groups should meet to refine their thoughts, wants and needs in order to prepare for a fall economic summit or a gathering by any other name that will synthesize the collective thoughts of the greater community into a cohesive report. Business leaders, entrepreneurs and planners will be invited to share their thoughts with the group and help reach a consensus vision and roadmap for the future. Think positive. The sky is the limit. So let’s get cracking!

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