The downtown area is the heart of a thriving city, where the hustle and bustle of life awakens during the morning commute and crowds gather after work making the center of the city a hub of activity for the community.
Knoxville’s own downtown has recently expanded the last few decades, bringing a new life to the area. Sitting on the edge of the Tennessee River, the area encompasses key landmarks like Market Square, Gay Street and the Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park.
Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville, made Knoxville her home after graduating from UT and has seen Knoxville’s downtown area expand the last few years.
“You know, probably two ways, because I see it from a Knoxvillan standpoint and from a visitor standpoint, but I think the cool part about that is it’s kind of the same for both, because downtown Knoxville has evolved over the last 20 years, coming into its real mecca, probably the last five to 10 years,” Bumpas said. “It’s just this really cool, unique vibe that you don’t really find in the rest of the country as you travel around.”
Visit Knoxville is the official convention and visitor bureau of Knoxville and are charged with maintaining Knoxville’s image, according to the Visit Knoxville website.
Today, new shops and restaurants are opening their doors, festivals and markets line Market Square during weekends and the nightlife has sprung into action as Knoxville residents walk along Gay Street passing by the Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville Art Emporium and public art displays.
Noah Farmer, Knoxville native and employee at Knoxville Chocolate Co., reminisced on how when he was younger he barely came to downtown, but has seen the area grow into itself over the last few years.
“So, when I was younger, when I was like super young, I never came up to downtown too much. There wasn’t too much going on, it wasn’t the place it is today,” Farmer said. “But, the past few years, it feels like there have been so many small businesses popping up … I think it’s one of the main reasons why we got called the “maker city” is just the small businesses that have been popping up.”
Knoxville Chocolate Co., a shop selling locally-made chocolates, recently celebrated its one year anniversary in December at its Market Square location.
Along with the chocolate shop, visitors have an array of bars, restaurants, cafés and food shops they can visit including Bistro at the Bijou, Cafe 4, French Market Crepe and Babalu Tacos and Tapas.
Displays of art are visible throughout the area, both indoors and out. First Friday Walks are where the community can walk around all the open galleries during First Friday to look at the different art on display. In addition to First Fridays, there are plenty of graffiti alleyways that are great as an Instagram background and as public art displayed throughout Market Square.
“I think for the downtown area, I think one of the big things is the cultural aspect of it,” Farmer said. “We’ve got the Emporium on Gay Street and then also the First Friday art walk, there’s a lot more creativity flowing around downtown ... It feels like more of a spot of inspiration, like when you’re down here you can always find something kind of to inspire yourself.”
The Art Emporium on Gay Street showcases several art galleries of local and regional artwork and also houses several studio artists in the building.
Downtown further offers outdoor activities like share-biking through the city and paddle boarding on the Tennessee River.
Bumpas said that another great aspect to downtown is the friendly atmosphere that the community creates.
“So, the visitor feedback that we get and I think this is what students would experience too when they start to gain the confidence to venture off campus and come downtown ... it’s the friendliness,” Bumpas said. “So, walking in, it’s like everybody is your best friend and then you match that welcome, open, good attitude energy.”