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  • AUGUST 7, 2008 Knoxville Voice 21

    Chris and Ruben Roybal, hold-ing a restaurant box of leftovers, stand on the east side of South Gay Street, peering down to the parking lot adjacent to the Gallery Lofts condominiums.

    Is that where you park if you live in one of those? Chris wonders.

    Its one question among many often asked by Knoxvillians who frequent the citys resur-gent Market Square yet dont have the luxury of living in one of downtowns more than 1,200 units, which at the Gallery are priced upwards from $300,000: Where do you buy groceries? Where do you send your children to school? How do you a ord it?

    Mayor Bill Haslam coined the phrase, Live, work, and play downtown, but some citizens still arent quite sure what to make of the concrete jungle bordered by 11th Street on the west and James White Parkway on the east. Haslams invitation and the subsequent revitalization of Knoxvilles downtown began when he defeated Madeline Rog-ero in 2003, grabbing the downtown torch

    from four-term mayor Victor Ashe. He real-ized the potential in restoring the Tennessee Th eatre and helping raise the $2.1 million needed to return the Bijou Th eatre to a usable concert house.

    Similar to what the Tennessee Aquarium did for Chattanooga, Regal Riviera Stadium was an anchor Haslam knew had to be established to attract people down-town year-round, which is why he made a $2 million personal investment for the theater to come to fruition.

    I think the reality is there needs to be a certain momentum, enough interest to bring people downtown, says Haslam, who can be seen taking jogs around the neighborhood before City Council meetings. Th en they have the ability to see what it looks like rais-ing a family downtown.

    Prior to Haslam taking o ce, about a half-century had passed since successful businesses brought crowds downtown for entertain-ment, shopping or dining perhaps even longer since a sizeable population actually

    On a Sunday evening downtown,A view of Knoxvilles revitalized Gay Street from a sixth- oor loft in the recently renovated Holston. Photo by LaRue Cook / Knoxville Voice

    The Holston lofts overlook Krutch Park. Photo by LaRue Cook / Knoxville Voice

    A visit inside the homes of families dwelling downtown

    reveals what brought them to the neighborhood and what keeps others in the suburbs

    By LaRue Cook


    22 Knoxville Voice AUGUST 7, 2008

    called Gay Street home.While some condos are still under con-

    struction, including Th e Residences at Mar-ket Square and the Crimson Building at the intersection of Gay Street and Summit Hill, others, like the Gallery Lofts and Th e Holston are lling up with homeowners, albeit own-ers of homes many Knoxvillians cant fathom purchasing when for a similar cost they could have more than twice the square footage, a yard and, just maybe, a picket fence.

    Th e once-blighted facades of a formerly ghostly downtown may have been trans-formed into viable businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues with residents ocking to the Market Square Farmers Market and Sundown in the City, but that doesnt mean local perceptions of living in the area have been completely altered.

    At the moment, the neighborhoods resi-dents skew toward young professionals, stu-dents and retirees who can a ord to ll the condos lining Gay Street and, in the future, across the river to the South Waterfront. According to the Central Business Improve-ment District, the downtown demographic breaks down into roughly one-third students, one-third young professionals and one-third empty nesters (nearly 80 percent of which are white).

    Weve increased the housing shortage downtown, and its true there isnt as much for people who have a modest income, Haslam admits. But everything doesnt hap-pen at one time.

    Th e CBID estimates about 15 families cur-

    rently reside downtown, but says that num-ber will likely grow as couples continue to populate the area.

    Still, for many Knoxvillians living in neigh-borhoods and suburbs to the north, east, west and south, the question remains: What is it like to raise a family on the ninth oor of a 15-story high rise?

    Touring the lofts and condos of several families and soon-to-be families provides a glimpse into the lifestyle of a downtown dweller, revealing the elements that drew them to the neighborhood and sometimes, those that keep others away.

    You have to be honest: Th ere are limita-tions with every living situation, Haslam says. Th ere is no perfect living situation. But I think downtowns strengths are starting to outweigh its weaknesses.

    To make downtown work, rst you have to have more than a 9 to 5 area. But for down-town to truly work, you have to have more than just either end of the spectrum, students or retirees, you have to have families.

    For Chris and Ruben Roybal, a vast city-scape is not as novel a concept as it is to many of the residents out west, which is how some of the 1,800-plus folks living down-town commonly refer to the sprawl that con-tinues to grow, stretching toward the Inter-state 40/75 split.

    Th e Roybals arrived in Knoxville three years ago from Los Angeles when Chris was relocated to Clinton for her job as an accoun-tant with Techmer. Th ey own a 3,000-square-foot home on an acre of land in Powell, but theyre longing for a semblance of the urban setting they once knew.

    Downtown feels like home, Chris says. Yards are overrated.

    Both in their mid-to-late-30s, the couple has seriously entertained the idea of giving up the wide-open spaces for a loft that, if compa-rable in price to their house, would be much more modest in size. Its up to their 13-year-old daughter, though, because the downtown area is zoned for Austin-East Magnet High

    before we can even think about moving down here.

    Further down Gay Street at Krutch Park, a handful of kids run and jump through the fountain as their mothers snap pictures.

    Christine Foley, who lives in South Knox-ville, and Karen Hammontree, who lives in North Knoxville, bring their children down-town a couple of weekends each month to play in the fountain that came with the parks renovation two summers ago.

    Th e two friends have ve children between them: Foley an 11-, 7-, and 4-year-old and Hammontree a 6-year-old and 18-month-old. Both say they enjoy and feel quite safe bringing their families to the year-old Riviera

    Th ey were telling us to live out west, that thats where young

    professionals go. Daniel Lyons

    School, which would force her to leave be-hind the friendships shes made in Powell.

    Our 10-year-old is ready to pack up and move now, says Ruben, who works part-time in logistics and is completing a degree in business at Tusculum. But I dont want to pull our older daughter away from her friends just when shes about to start high school, so well probably wait until theyre both grown

    cinema and frequenting the Downtown Grill and Brewery with their husbands.

    Yet neither Foley nor Hammontree wants to leave behind the porch and yard most Ten-nesseans, especially East Tennesseans, covet for a posh loft.

    I open the door and my kids can run out and play, Foley says. Th ats not something you can do down here.

    Katie Hannahs house in Island Home Park is a hang-out for neighborhood kids. Photo by LaRue Cook / Knoxville Voice Daniel Lyons and Trisha McKinney relax with Lola and Beaux in their downtown loft at the Gallery.Photo by LaRue Cook / Knoxville Voice

  • AUGUST 7, 2008 Knoxville Voice 23

    Michele Hummel, director of the CBID, grew up in a suburban home in West Knox-ville, but now lives on the third oor of the Gallery Lofts building, which also houses Mast General Store and Knoxville Voice. She attended college in Cookeville at Tennes-see Tech and came back to spend a year in a condo out west before deciding to move downtown in 1999.

    I was just drawn to the downtown setting I dont enjoy planting owers and yard work and that type of thing, says Hummel, a 40-year-old single mom who lives with her 3-year-old adopted daughter, Isabella. I like to be able to walk wherever, and youve got so many di erent restaurants, entertainment, bars, museums and the YMCA, so many dif-ferent things in close proximity you dont have to go anywhere else in Knoxville.

    Across the Gay Street bridge in the Island Home Park neighborhood of South Knox-ville, it appears that almost every kid on the block is at the home of Katie Hannah, the act-ing president of the neighborhood association.

    Only one of them is mine, says Hannah, pointing to her 10-year-old son Issac who sits among ve or six others watching TV in the living room.

    Hannah is a model of e ciency. While preparing food for the book club meeting shes hosting later that evening, she nds the time to serve the kids lemonade, not to men-tion eld pesky questions and give a quick tour of her 1,700-square-foot home.

    She and husband Brendon, whose band Brendon James Wright & the Wrongs often play Barleys in the Old City, grew up in the South, but moved to Connecticut when Ka-

    ties job with a textbook company took them there.

    When the couple returned six years ago, they lived for a year in Bearden but wanted to be closer to downtown we ride bikes to Regal and take the kids just not in it.

    We liked Island Home because it was family-friendly but still close to downtown, says Hannah, hinting that the area where Mayor Haslam wants people to live and work may not be as prone to play.

    I just dont think the logistics would work. I want a place with a yard and a park close by. Ive thought about how cool it would be to live in one of those downtown lofts, but then I think about my kids running around like the Kennedys in Manh