Takeaways from Mayor Indya Kincannon’s plan to ‘lift up all Knoxville residents’

The term “state of the city” is a bit misleading, as it suggests only a snapshot in time. Rather, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon’s annual address April 26 laid out where the city is going as a new fiscal year approaches.

Sheltered from the rain by a large white tent at Western Heights, the major focused her 20 minutes of stage time on the city’s biggest projects and challenges: providing affordable housing, improving public safety and making smart investments that benefit different types of people living in the city.

Choosing Western Heights as the host

It wouldn’t be a speech without thanking the hosts, and Kincannon took time to highlight the $200 million Transforming Western Initiative to revamp Western Heights.

The project received $40 million from a federal Choice Neighborhoods grant for 740 low- and mixed-income housing units, playgrounds and greenspaces.

The Western Heights Head Start Facility has already opened its doors to offer preschool services to children age 5 and younger.

Finding a home in Knoxville shouldn’t be hard

Housing − specifically, of the affordable variety − was a theme throughout.

In January, rents in the Knoxville metro area was up nearly 13% from the same time last year, according to the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors. That’s more than twice the national average, which increased by 4.99%.

Knoxville has long been touted as an affordable place to buy a home, but prices haven’t been affordable for the average buyer for a while.

In February, the median list price of a home in the Knoxville area was $457,000, about $42,000 higher than the national average, according to an analysis by the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors of Realtor.com data.

Kincannon touted these supportive housing initiatives and plans to address homelessness:

Kincannon acknowledged the demand for housing and shared that more than 3,800 housing units are moving through the city’s permitting process.

Improving public safety in Knoxville

The number of homicides in Knoxville, which has trended higher than the national average in recent years, will decline in 2022 – by a bit.

The 2022 homicide numbers showed a 15% drop compared to 2021, from 41 to 35. But Knoxville still has a long way to go to reach prepandemic annual homicide totals that typically ranged in the high teens and low 20s.

Kincannon said providing a safe community is “job one,” and touted several initiatives and organizations working to fight crime.

The city will combine the Office of Community Empowerment and Office of Community Safety under the leadership of current community safety director Lake Kenya Middlebrook. The budget will pay for several new staff members, Kincannon said.

The major also highlighted an increase in cases solved under Police Chief Paul Noel, as well as the Public Safety Complex coming to the vacated St. Mary’s Hospital in North Knoxville.

Budget proposals highlighted by Indya Kincannon

These are the areas of investment Kincannon addressed:

  • Infrastructure: Projects including road improvements and pothole repairs – $9.3 million

  • Parks and recreation: Improvements to Lakeshore Park and Williams Creek Golf Course, as well as a new park in Lonsdale – $3.95 million

  • Arts and culture: Funding for an immersive Zoo Knoxville experience and improvements to the Beck Cultural Center – $3 million

Looking ahead while recognizing Knoxville’s past progress

Overall, the event was a real who’s who, and Kincannon took time to praise the accomplishments of the leaders before him.

She started by recognizing the former major Randy Tyree, 1976-84, for his work leading the city through the 1982 World’s Fair. She followed with a brief tribute to the former major Victor Ashe, 1988-2003, for his work in encouraging the construction of a Knoxville Convention Center.

Kincannon highlighted the accomplishments of former major Bill Hassan, 2003–11, namely his efforts in getting Regal Cinemas to Gay Street and helping to revitalize Market Square.

Kincannon shared that And brown, acting major in 2011, will be honored with a commemorative space at the under-construction First Creek at Austin. He was Knoxville’s first and only Black major.

She was wrapped up by remembering the Urban Wilderness efforts of her predecessor, Madeleine Rogero, Knoxville’s first female mayor, who served 2011-19.

As Kincannon enters a new fiscal year, some of the city’s biggest projects include:

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Indya Kincannon talks Knoxville housing, safety plan at annual address