Knoxville from atop Sharps Ridge: Brian Stansberry [CC BY 3.0]
Ah, Knoxville. Birthplace of Mountain Dew and Kenny Chesney. Land of Peyton Manning’s alma mater, the University of Tennessee. And the place that the Wall Street Journal referred to as a “scruffy little city” when the town was preparing to host the 1982 World’s Fair.
Undaunted, Knoxville has embraced its scruffy spirit, taking up the pledge to “Keep Knoxville Scruffy” and hosting events like the Scruffy City Film and Music Festival and Scruffy City Vegan Fest. There’s even an entertainment complex in downtown’s Market Square called Scruffy City Hall, complete with a rooftop bar named the Scroof.
So Knoxville residents clearly have a wry sense of humor—but what else do they have?
Makers and shakers
For starters, Knoxville has a dynamic maker community, called The Maker City. The organization—which is more than 900 strong—hosts events, meetups, and an annual summit. It also maintains a searchable directory of “artisans, makers, small-scale manufacturers, and creatives” to help consumers, contractors, and businesses shop local, find craftspeople for projects, and support the maker community. The Maker City is led by the Mayor’s Maker Council and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.
And that’s a perfect segue. Knoxville is also seeing a major push toward business development and startup support. The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) is an accelerator whose mission is “to build a community where entrepreneurs have access to the capital, customers, and talent they need to be successful.” In addition to helping The Maker City grow and thrive, KEC runs a business development program, hosts events and classes, and connects entrepreneurs with mentors to help them get their businesses off the ground.
Knoxville has proximity going for it, too. Atlanta and Nashville are roughly three-hour drives, and Louisville is about four. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are a stone’s throw away, and you can drive to Asheville in a couple of hours.
The city is also situated amidst an abundance of outdoor attractions, like the neighboring Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Seven lakes are scattered around Knoxville, and the Tennessee River runs through town. (TUBING!) There are a million opportunities for taking scenic drives, hiking, camping, birding, biking, paddling, swimming, fishing, and llama trekking. (No, really.) And with more than 50 miles of greenway paths, it’s easy to get some exercise and fresh air even without engaging with mountains, lakes, or furry pack animals.
Knoxville offers such a tremendous variety of attractions, events, and activities, it’s hard to imagine anyone NOT finding plenty of cool things to see and do. Here’s an abbreviated list to get you started.
Market Square, mentioned earlier, is a pedestrian mall that offers everything from movie nights to free theater to farmer’s markets to winter ice skating, along with restaurants, bars, and specialty shops.
World’s Fair Park has revived the area that hosted the 1982 World’s Fair. The Fair’s original amphitheater and the famous Sunsphere, with its panoramic view of Knoxville and beyond, are integrated into a space that features a water park, a festival lawn, and a performance lawn.
Downtown’s Tennessee Theater (“America’s grand entertainment palace”) opened in 1928 and has since morphed from a single-screen movie theater to a multi-use performance venue.
Knoxville offers scads of festivals, such as Big Ears Festival (a weekend devoted to world-class musical performances, not people with big ears), the Dogwood Arts Festival (“a dynamic street festival encompassing high-quality visual, performing, and children’s arts”), and Chocolatefest Knoxville, which provides “chocolate indulgence” to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House.
Ijams Nature Center, 300 acres of protected wildlife habitat, is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, with “natural surface trails, scenic overlooks, disused marble quarries, boardwalks along the Tennessee River, historic cemeteries, wooded groves, nature playscapes, creeks and wildflowers.”
Knoxville data from the flight deck
- Population (city limits): 187,500
- Population (MSA): 853,000
- Male/Female Ratio: 47.9%/52.1%
- Median age: 33.8
- Median household income: $33,494 a year
- Median home value: $175,000
- Median rent price: $1,300
- Unemployment rate: 3.2%
- Cost of living index: 93.5
Sources: US Census Bureau; Zillow; BestPlaces