Page 80 - Cityview Magazine - July/August 2017
P. 80

Around town
GeorGe Korda
and I communicate almost daily. As we prepare our budget, our finance people are in touch with his so we know what they’re doing, where it is that we are both going to contribute, and that we are in sync. On a number of issues, we are coordinating on a regular basis.
K: I want to talk for a minute about immigrants coming to Knoxville. You said you want to be a welcoming city. How welcoming do you think Knoxville ought to be to someone who has broken the law to come here?
R: Well, I guess you could ask the businesses who are employing them, who are depending on them for their labor. That’s the reason why people come here. They are here because there are jobs, and they send that money home to help take care of their families. A lot of young people are coming here because of the violence in their countries. The reality is that our economy is doing very well because there’s a lot of extra labor here. I
think the idea that we shouldn’t be welcoming because somebody broke the law to get here is sort of the biggest lie in our country right now. Now if somebody comes in here illegally or not and they are violent criminals, we want them out of here. But somebody who
is coming here to make a better life
for themselves, a safer place for their children, and in fact are contributing
to our economy—yes, I’m going to be as welcoming as I can.
K: If somebody says, “Mayor, I
read what you said about illegal immigrants coming to the city of Knoxville. I don’t want people here who are breaking American law by being here.” I’m asking you, does that make that individual intolerant or bigoted?
R: No. I disagree with them on the issue.
K: A good deal of city funding is coming through passed-down exemptions. But those aren’t being used much, anymore. As budgets increase and purchases become more expensive, you’ve got a finite geographic area with a relatively stable population. It would seem you only have sales tax and property taxes to fund city government. Long term, without some other means of revenue, is that a viable place for the city to be?
R: It’s true. For years, as the core
of the community and wealth left downtown, previous mayors went after it through annexation. What the city has to do now, and what we have in fact been doing for a number of years, is reinvesting, rebuilding from the core out instead of chasing the wealth. I remember, when I worked for Mayor Haslam, we talked about two of our greatest opportunities for redevelopment and new growth in the city: along the south waterfront and along the I-275 corridor. That’s what we’ve been focusing on. That’s why we put major investment along Cumberland Avenue. That seventeen million dollars of investment has now brought in over two-hundred-and- ten million of private investment. You’re seeing businesses coming in and investing in all of those corridors: Magnolia, Broadway, Central, Sevier Avenue, and Cumberland. We’re reinvesting strategically with public dollars, then we’re seeing maximum private investment come in.
K: Cumberland is interesting. It was crowded when it was four lanes, and now it’s going to two lanes. To what degree do you sympathize
or empathize with people who are concerned about their businesses, just on the basis that there’s simply going to be fewer lanes of traffic people can use?
R: We care very much what the
property owners and businesses think. That’s why we’ve engaged them from the very beginning in the planning process. The Cumberland Avenue Merchants Association is very active. They support the efforts. Not everybody agrees with everything,
so I’m sure there are some who are still unhappy, but by and large, I am confident that the majority of the merchants and property owners have been supportive and are supportive because they work with us on a daily basis to make it a successful project. Yes, in the past there were four lanes, two in each direction. It was very dysfunctional because there was
no turn lane, and it was not safe for pedestrians. The idea is to make this a more pedestrian-friendly environment and to encourage people to come
down to the strip and support the restaurants and stores who bring new developments. I think you will see traffic will slow down a bit, but not much because it was dysfunctional before. This is changing the function
of Cumberland Avenue. I think it’s going to be a much more attractive—a more functional and a different type of environment, one that will serve the university, the students, and all of those folks that are now living and will be living along Cumberland Avenue.
K: Are you in effect creating or wanting to create a variation of Market Square along Cumberland, only with traffic?
R: I don’t know if Cumberland Avenue is the same as the square because cars will be there, but the whole purpose
is to be pedestrian oriented—a place for tens of thousands to go for food, recreation, and entertainment. Just
as they do with the Old City and downtown.
K: The City County Building garage has been cut off from public use now for fourteen or fifteen years,

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