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Restaurants & retail? See consultants' vision for future of Chilhowee Park

Short-range plans include a new amphitheater, multi-purpose building and more parking. The long-range plans get more ambitious.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — What could Knoxville's Chilhowee Park look like in a few years?

Earlier this year, the city asked for your input to get a better idea of how you wanted to use the 81-acre park, currently home to the Tennessee Valley Fair and other annual events, and what you wanted to see in the future.

Community members expressed the need for more green space and bathrooms, along with improvements to parking and the lake.

The city also hired a consulting firm to take a look at the current state of the park and recommend some future possibilities.

Consulting firm Convention Sports and Leisure International recommended investing around $100 million into the park. That investment would include a new amphitheater, multi-purpose building and more parking.

RELATED: City asks for community input on future uses of Chilhowee Park

RELATED: See the consultant's proposal

"Those are some of the short-run things that we could try to address that could meet the community needs and not be as expensive as the grand plan that we looked at," Knoxville deputy chief of operations Chip Barry said. 

City leaders said those short-term changes could cost between $4 million to $5 million, which would be up to whichever administration is elected to lead the city come November.

The consulting team also presented a long-range vision for the park that vastly increases green space and triples the size of the lake. The vision includes options for families to boat, kayak or canoe on what could be a 9-acre lake.

Restaurants, retail, and housing options were also part of the long-range vision. They suggested the Midway could be remade into mixed-use development and houses, with the city's investment in upgrades being a catalyst for private economic development.

“This study confirmed that parts of Chilhowee Park are showing their age and often can’t competitively attract certain events when compared with more modern facilities,” said Chip Barry, Deputy Chief of Operations. “That said, this analysis also confirmed much of what we already knew – that Knoxville residents greatly value the park, want to see it made greener, and want more year-round activity.”

There is no funding committed to any aspects of the recommended plan, other than short-term maintenance. While the total cost to do everything outlined in the plan is estimated at $81.5 million or more, Barry noted that the plan is an “aspirational” blueprint; components could be added incrementally, over many years.

According to the city, Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center serves as home to the Tennessee Valley Fair each fall and to The Muse and Golden Gloves Charities year-round. Adjacent to Chilhowee Park is the 53-acre Zoo Knoxville, the city’s top attraction, which welcomed 512,112 visitors in 2018 and set a new attendance record for the fourth consecutive year. 

Because the strategic plan calls for reconfiguring the park grounds, it suggests the City should assist the fair in relocating to larger and improved space. Golden Gloves could potentially relocate to the proposed new multi-use facility, while the Muse might be a good fit for the current Jacob Building, according to the strategic plan.