KCDC marks launch of Transforming Western implementation

August 3, 2023

Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC), along with business and community leaders and residents, officially broke ground Aug. 3 on the first phase of transformation of Western Heights, which will begin with the site’s infrastructure.

The transformation plan for the housing site and the surrounding neighborhood features enhanced access to housing, economic opportunity, transportation and youth development.

“Transforming Western is the result of the combined efforts and vision of the residents along with federal, state and local leaders who embraced the initiative to change a community,” KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley said. “Western Heights and the Beaumont neighborhood will become a place where everyone can thrive starting with early education and continuing with improved access to employment, healthcare, recreation and supportive services to form a cohesive community.”

Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) celebrates the official groundbreaking on Aug. 3 of the first phase of the Transforming Western initiative to reshape the Western Heights housing site and surrounding Beaumont neighborhood. Participating in the ceremony, from left: Jim Hatfield of KCDC; Matt Brazille of Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.; Felix Harris, Bob Whetsel, Robyn McAdoo, John Winemiller and Chair Kim Henry of KCDC board of commissioners; State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey; State Sen. Richard Briggs; State Rep. Elaine Davis, Katie Moore of Tennessee Housing Development Agency; Walter Perry of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; KCDC Executive Director and CEO Ben Bentley; Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon; Gwen McKenzie, Janet Testerman and Lynne Fugate of Knoxville City Council; Karly Brinla of Brinshore; Marisa Moazen of KCDC; David Brint and Todd Lieberman of Brinshore; Barbara Kelly of Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee; and Jonathan Sexton of Smith Gee Studio.

The funding for Transforming Western comes in part from a $40 million HUD Choice Neighborhoods grant that was announced in 2022. The City of Knoxville is investing $4.2 million in infrastructure, as part of $26.5 million committed over multiple budgets.

“The city’s $26.5 million investment will support infrastructure and set the stage for the development of affordable housing in this community,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “The new Western Heights community will prioritize access to transportation, jobs, entrepreneurship opportunities, healthcare and technology with new park amenities that will become regional destinations. I was here last fall for the celebration of receiving the grant, and I presented the city’s budget on this site in the spring. I am elated to be here this summer for the groundbreaking.”

The process to earn the highly competitive HUD Choice Neighborhoods grant began in 2021 with insight from Western Heights residents followed by meetings with 17 stakeholder groups with a vested interest in the neighborhood. The three other cities across the United States that were awarded the HUD grants, which totaled $180 million, included Omaha, Nebraska; Durham, North Carolina; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“The Choice Neighborhoods grant program enables communities to revitalize high poverty neighborhoods by replacing distressed public housing and HUD-assisted developments with new mixed-income housing, catalyzing investments in the surrounding neighborhood and improving opportunities for target housing residents,” said Walter Perry, HUD Knoxville field office director. “Choice Neighborhoods staff work with grantees to assist them in developing and implementing the people, housing and neighborhood elements of these plans. This official start of the Transforming Western implementation is a milestone to celebrate.”

Choice Neighborhoods grantees and their partners invest in tailored supportive services to improve employment, health and education outcomes for residents living in public housing and other HUD-assisted housing. Local supportive service providers, including health clinics, schools, early education centers, job training providers and employers, tailor programs and services to effectively empower residents to meet goals and bring about real impact.

Housing construction for Transforming Western will start in the coming months and occur in four phases. Phase 1, which will take approximately 18 months, will provide 76 rental units, including 31 subsidized replacement units, 30 affordable units and 15 market rate units. Phase 2 is projected to be completed in 2026, Phase 3 in 2027 and Phase 4 in 2028.

As part of the Transforming Western plan, the 196 units of affordable housing currently at Western Heights will be rebuilt along with an anticipated addition of 283 new units of affordable and market-rate housing to create a diverse, mixed-income community. The property’s location will allow various choices in housing style and highlight the aspirational views of the city and mountains. Brinshore Development and KCDC will lead the housing elements of the plan.

The architect for Phase 1 housing is Smith Gee Studio of Nashville with Blackburn Development Group serving as owner’s representative.

The neighborhood component of the Transforming Western plan will address safety; transportation; open space such as parks and recreation; arts, culture and entrepreneurship; and cohesiveness of the community. Two large parks in later phases will include a hillside climbing park, playground and splashpad with spaces for creativity and entrepreneurship to build a new neighborhood economic center, including food service and an entrepreneurial kitchen.

“The Choice Neighborhoods grants have spurred some of the most innovative and complex redevelopment in the country, transforming severely distressed housing into new mixed-income communities that replace each HUD-assisted unit one-for-one,” Bentley said. “They’ve also sparked impactful supportive services strategies from comprehensive early learning initiatives to healthcare to employment. Knoxville will become the next city to fully transform a community through Choice Neighborhoods.”

The first step of the overall initiative was completed in October 2022 with the official opening of the Western Heights Head Start center, which provides comprehensive preschool programs for neighborhood children from infant to age 5. The $5.6 million, 22,000-square-foot building, located at 1101 W. Oldham Ave., offers Head Start and Early Head Start programming by the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) to more than 130 children.

The people component of the Transforming Western plan focuses on improving education outcomes; offering better internet access; boosting healthcare availability; establishing enrichment opportunities for youth; securing living wage jobs and career paths; and offering access to affordable, healthy and fresh foods.

Dozens of area non-profit partners will join forces and provide supportive services, programs and activities for the area’s residents with CAC leading the people component.

KCDC’s lead partners in the Transforming Western planning process included the City of Knoxville, Brinshore Development, Urban Design Associates, BarberMcMurry Architects and CAC.

Established in 1939, Western Heights is KCDC’s largest affordable housing development and is located just off Keith and Western avenues in Northwest Knoxville.