The Daily Pulse:

Lakeshore's Future: the floor's open

Lakeshore is in transition, and likely to grow much bigger than ever before, in the wake of the end of its almost 130 years as a mental-health facility, so it's perhaps not surprising that a crowd of a few hundred--among them, Mayor Madeline Rogero, most of City Council, as well as County Commissioner Ed Shouse, former Mayor Randy Tyree, and State Representative Gloria Johnson--gathered at Sacred Heart's gymnasium to talk about the future of Lakeshore. Purely a mental hospital until about 20 years ago, when Knox Youth Sports negotiated a limited use of some of its grounds for soccer and baseball fields, and eventually an interesting 2.2-mile trail, the site at Lyons View and Northshore has evolved in stages into Knoxville's most popular park.

Mayor Rogero spoke of the "opportunity to make it the best park in the country," introducing Chief Policy Officer Bill Lyons, and Lakeshore's historian board member Tom McAdams, who gave a brief history of the hillside, from Cherokee days. McAdams outlined the story of settler Capt. William Lyons, who, as became clear later in the program, is no relation to Bill Lyons. According to Lyons, at least, having Bill Lyons in charge of William Lyons old property presents no conflict of interest.

Lyons introduced an appealing RIVR Media video about the park--that studio is just a few hundred yards away--and emphasized the fact that this is the earliest part of the planning process. "Any form of participation and input will be eagerly awaited and considered," he said.

It's hard for an angry mob to develop after a statement like that, and the 75-minute meeting was extraordinarily civil. Some problems came up, like the park's frustrating inaccessibility to the river itself, separated by a fence and some riprap; it sounds as if that's a problem that might be solved in time. Some buildings, for sure the 1880s headquarters building, perhaps the much-admired chapel, and maybe a few more utlititarian buildings, will be saved in the plan. Several others will be demolished.

In all the feel-good discussion, Lyons added one sobering thought. Proposed improvements can't be paid for by the city alone, he said. When we make suggestions for Lakeshore, he pleaded, "think of a way to pay for it."

Suggestions that have already come up include a dog park, an amphitheatre, water access via canoeing or paddleboarding, a barbecue-firepit section. Others brought up non-profit meeting space, said to be in short supply; boathouses; an artificial creek/waterfall, making use of the steep slope toward the river; an old-folks home; displays of art, especially that of former mental patients; a basketball facility; more baseball fields; a community garden and kitchen; a farmers' market; a quilt museum; a children's museum; accommodations for birdwatching; and, most poignantly, a Lyceum, a gathering place for art and music. It was interesting that that last suggestion caused some puzzlement about the spelling and the concept. Knoxville had a Lyceum, by that name, downtown, a century ago.

Perhaps the most surprising proposal was the one that, for whatever it's worth, got the most applause. A delegation of three sportsmen made a heartfelt plea for a BMX bike-racing facility there, protesting that Morristown and Cleveland, Tenn., have a bicycle motocross track, but Knoxville lacks one woefully.

A few were there just to declare that, whatever it becomes, the place should never be developed commercially. One woman spoke of proposals, one of them by Knoxville legislator Stacy Campfield, not present at the meeting, to auction off Lakeshore to the highest bidder. "I don't think that's gonna happen," Lyons said, noting the large crowd itself--which did not seem to include a single advocate for that proposal.

The meeting adjourned in a gathering hailstorm at 7:15, but Lyons emphasized that the floor is still open to more ideas. The city's website, http://www.cityofknoxville.org/, offers a survey and opportunity to contribute.  

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