Chamber Celebrates 10 Years on Market Square
This month, the Knoxville Chamber celebrates its 10th anniversary on Market Square. Prior to establishing roots on Market Square, the Chamber had been housed on Gay Street, Church Avenue, and most recently historic Old City Hall on Summit Hill Drive.
When considering a new location to move to in 2004, we felt by locating in the heart of Market Square the Chamber would be part of an exciting renaissance for Knoxville. So the decision was made to buy the upper floor of the Watson’s Building, named after the former department store tenant. Like any redevelopment project, particularly one involving an older building, the project had more than its share of challenges, but working with a number of professionals we were able to develop a space the offers our staff a phenomenal work environment and our members a great place to congregate.
Downtown has changed greatly over the last 10 years. When we first moved to Market Square, only a few viable businesses were in existence – the Tomato Head, Subway, Bliss, Preservation Pub and Earth to Old City. Larger businesses like Knoxville Utilities Board and 21st Mortgage had a presence on Gay Street, but a majority of the downtown office spaces remained unoccupied, however, the buzz of redevelopment was beginning.
During the early stages of Market Square’s renaissance the volume of downtown workers and visitors was still too low to sustain many new businesses. That all began to change when the City of Knoxville, the Central Business Improvement District, the City Industrial Board, and several risk-taking developers came together and invested in downtown residential units and office space. Downtown housing grew at a record pace – even showing growth during the recession when residential building permits were flat in other parts of the city and the county. Mast General Store and the Regal Rivera movie theater, both unfathomable just a few years earlier, became anchors for downtown and brought more people to the area than had been here in decades.
New parking garages were built at both Locust Street and Market Square to accommodate the rising downtown population, and construction is currently underway for yet another structure just west of the Market Square garage. Downtown has evolved both eclectically and organically. All the ingredients for a great downtown are here: living, working, entertainment, leisure, dining, and a great sense of place. Now that development has spread from the heart of downtown into other areas like the Old City, Jackson Avenue, Cumberland Avenue, North Central Avenue, Happy Holler, and across the river to the south waterfront.
Indeed, the Chamber’s decision to move to Market Square in downtown Knoxville has proven to be a great one. Being a part of this process and having had a ringside seat to watch Knoxville’s continuing revival has been both exciting and a privilege. We are even more excited to see what the next 10 years brings.