’Burg gets ideas for development

City discusses concepts for redeveloping north end
Feb. 07, 2013 @ 12:14 AM

The Gatlinburg City Commission met Monday with a Knoxville-based marketing and developing company to hear ideas concerning the redevelopment of the city's north end, an area at the Spur-side entrance of the city, which already receives a lot of traffic.

During this purely conceptual phase of the process, representatives from Tennessee Strategies summed up the findings from their studies of other successful redevelopment, revitalization or revisioning processes in cities that share some similarities with Gatlinburg.

The company looked at the shopping district in West Palm Beach, Fla., Market Square in Knoxville, Chattanooga's Downtown and Waterfront district, Beale Street in Memphis, and the boardwalk area in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"Here are five places that did a pretty good job of turning things around," Tennessee Strategies President Mike Ragsdale said. "Not a single one is identical to Gatlinburg, but some of the concepts they used ... I think really have some applicability."

Ragsdale, along with partner Mike Arms and associate Brian Pierce, explained some of their proposals to redevelop parts of Gatlinburg, with an emphasis on the north end, based on their research.

They stressed that large-scale additions, such as AutoZone Park and the FedEx Forum in Memphis, should not be Gatlinburg's focus. Instead, they recommended the city add smaller attractions, such as an ice skating rink or outdoor amphitheater (both seen in Knoxville), to draw more visitors to the north end of the city.

Ragsdale, a former mayor of Knox County, contributed money to the original project to put an ice skating rink in downtown Knoxville. He was skeptical at first, but contributed money anyway.

"I was flabbergasted when I started getting calls that they were running out of skates and they needed more people down there to help out," Ragsdale said. "Just a little thing like that attracted so many people down to Market Square, and now it's gotten to be a seasonal tradition that's overwhelmingly successful."

Other points of emphasis were green spaces and greenways, greater utilization of the river's natural attraction, rooftop and outdoor dining, an eye-catching pedestrian bridge, and more retail centers for the arts and crafts community.

Ragsdale and Arms noted that many of these points could be combined for more efficient use. Greenways could run along the river, with green spaces placed along both to create "pockets of interest." These could be utilized for arts and crafts retail centers, and rooftop and outdoor dining could face the river and greenways.

"What we want to do is not just build a big sidewalk or greenway, but let's create some little pockets of interest as you make your journey along that greenway, along that river," Pierce said. "Just some areas where you can come and congregate and create some little destinations."

There wasn't much commissioner reaction to the proposals, except for a few comments confirming the need for development at the north end of town.

"That's what we hired them specifically to do," City Manager Cindy Ogle said.

Mayor Mike Werner asked what sort of public funds would be available for this redevelopment, and there was some discussion about creating a development corporation, a quasi-governmental entity that would be appointed by city commissioners and would have jurisdiction outside the city's Public Building Authority's limitations.

The city officials and Tennessee Strategies representatives agreed that the next step is to gather north-end business owners at a similar meeting and get their input.