$2 M Committed to Burlington Streetscape Project

Communications Director

Kristin Farley
kfarley@knoxvilletn.gov
(865) 215-2589

400 Main St., Room 691
Knoxville, TN 37902

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$2 M Committed to Burlington Streetscape Project

Posted: 06/16/2021
Burlington decades ago was a robust residential neighborhood with a uniquely distinct commercial district.

It still boasts Lema’s World Famous Chittlins and Speedway Circle, once a Cal Johnson racetrack. But at one time, it was home to a 278-seat movie theater, built the same year as downtown’s Tennessee Theatre, according to the Knoxville History Project. Iconic anchors used to include Ruby’s Coffee Shop and Greenlee’s Drugstore. They’re gone, but Barnes Barber Shop, the Lunch House and Lema’s are timeless stalwarts.

Burlington residents in 2021 are eager for more new investment and opportunity in this East Knoxville neighborhood. 

The City hopes to jumpstart that by committing more than $2 million in Mayor Indya Kincannon’s 2021-22 budget, approved last month by City Council, for a streetscape project and other amenities.

“One of my administration’s core values is building healthy, walkable and connected neighborhoods,” Mayor Kincannon said. “This investment in Burlington is really about place-making and partnering with the residents to help the neighborhood thrive. I’m proud to support the residents’ hard work.”

Imagine wide new sidewalks and streetlights along a section of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, in the heart of Burlington, between Kirkwood and Shelby streets, near the City fire station and Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion Church.

Further imagine the streetscape project also making Prosser Road more walkable between MLK Jr. Avenue and Holston Drive.

And what if some of the ugly overhead utility lines can be relocated – and on-street parking created?

The design details of the project are still being worked out, but look for the new sidewalks and other improvements to begin to take shape in about a year.

The Burlington streetscape project will create some of the public amenities envisioned in the Burlington Enhancement Plan, developed by the East Tennessee Community Design Center in partnership with local residents and businesses. 

The conceptual study provided recommendations to revitalize the Burlington Commercial District and stimulate economic development by enhancing beauty of the streets, creating more public spaces, improving pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular infrastructure, and enhancing navigation with gateway entrance and wayfinding signage.

“Mayor Kincannon is committing funding for infrastructure that improves connectivity and walkability,” said Charles Lomax, the City’s Director of Community Empowerment. “We look forward to continuing conversations with residents and business owners about how we can best help Burlington realize its vision.

“Because in the end, it will be a collaboration: The City can invest in streetscapes and build the framework, but redevelopment also requires private investment and entrepreneurship.” 

Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie, whose 6th District includes Burlington, believes the City investment will help reinvigorate the Burlington commercial district – with more good things to follow.

“Burlington has been a hidden gem for many years, and a lot of people don’t know the history of Burlington Business District,” McKenzie said. “I’m looking forward to more aggressive improvements which will position the Burlington Business District to become a thriving area again and enhancing the surrounding community.”

Dasha Lundy, former President of the Burlington Residents Association, grew up in Burlington. She lives there, and her parents live there. It’s home.

“I’m grateful for the City’s investment,” she said. “It shows the community that the City has not left them behind. This will definitely attract more private investors.”

Keira Wyatt, founder and Executive Director of C.O.N.N.E.C.T. Ministries, refers to Burlington as “a crown jewel.”

“I am grateful for the City’s investment in this historical community,” Wyatt said. “I have been personally connected for over 50 years. We are diverse, friendly and are neighbors to some of the City’s most popular destinations, including Knoxville Zoo, the Tennessee Valley Fair, Pizza Palace, the Muse, Chilhowee Park, Homer Hamilton Theater, the Jacob Building, Golden Gloves Arena and the oldest African-American church in the city – a part of the Underground Railroad – Greater Warner Tabernacle A.M.E. Zion Church.

“The future of Burlington is bright! The potential for educational enhancement, economic growth and community development is unlimited, and I am honored to be a part of this process.”

Some of the groundwork for a Burlington revitalization has been laid.

Planning is well underway on a redesign of the Magnolia Avenue / Asheville Highway / Rutledge Pike interchange. 

The goal is to build a community-desired connection to the Burlington commercial district. Rutledge Pike would be slightly rerouted to connect more traditionally to Magnolia Avenue and Asheville Highway, whereas the current configuration creates a wide barrier that bisects the area. The new interchange would complement and connect the surrounding neighborhoods by encouraging walkability and easy access to transit services.

There are also conceptual long-range plans as well for adding new amenities to Chilhowee Park as the city as whole and East Knoxville in particular grow.

Small but recognizable steps have already been taken in Burlington. 

For example, the City in 2016 invested $143,000 to turn the KAT stop on Kirkwood Street into a superstop, which created more options for transit users and made transfers even easier.

In 2018, the first small piece of the Burlington Enhancement Plan was realized – a $127,500 project at the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Fern Street intersection that included stamped asphalt crosswalks, ADA curb cuts and a resurfaced intersection. This project was a collaboration between the state, Knox County Engineering and City Engineering.

The City's Housing and Neighborhood Development Department has long been involved in Burlington – both with homeowner assistance programs and with commercial façade improvement projects.

Since 2008, six property owners have partnered with the City to redo the commercial facades of their businesses in the 3800 and 3900 blocks of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. The owners invested a combined $239,424, and the City provided $261,897 through the façade program.

“Burlington has a very bright, exciting future,” Lomax said. “We've made a start with public investments, and much more is to come. The City is proud to support the revitalization efforts of the neighborhood.”