April 24, 2018 Clarksville Redevelopment Project Sparked by Students’ Proposal Opens to Community

Six years after a request to study and design redevelopment projects for downtown Clarksville, Tennessee, one of the projects sparked by Architecture and Interior Architecture students now is open for the community to enjoy.

On April 18, the city of Clarksville celebrated the opening of its $4.2 million Downtown Commons, a new public square in the heart of downtown that includes a park, seasonal ice-skating rink, a concert stage, a water feature and play areas for children, food vendor locations, and public restrooms.

A public square was the central theme of the students’ design work during the college’s Nashville Urban Design Program in summer 2012.

That summer, students and Professor Thomas K. Davis were asked by a Clarksville revitalization nonprofit, Two Rivers Company, to conduct an urban design study to continue the city’s recovery after a devastating tornado ravaged its downtown in 1999.

For 12 weeks, the summer studio of students in residence at the Nashville Civic Design Center gathered input from residents, worked with area architects, studied the urban design plan devised by Davis, and created a proposal to address opportunities.

Students who participated in the project were Tyrone Bunyon (B.Arch., 2012), Ashley Gillenwaters (B.Arch., 2012), Kendra McHaney (B.Arch., 2012), Erin Metelka (BSID, 2012), Dakota Montgomery (B.Arch., 2013), Jared Pohl (M.Arch., 2014), Walker Westbrook (B.Arch., 2014), and Cory Wilkerson (B.Arch., 2013).

One of the group’s first observations was that downtown Clarksville lacked urban spaces. What was called the “public square” was in fact a parking lot for the city hall. After research, students identified a specific urban block as the prime candidate for a new urban square. It was envisioned to be a passive park, surrounded by shade trees that would spark future mixed use and residential development on its underbuilt adjacent block.

“The students identified this site as a highly strategic location,” said Davis. “It catalyzes the whole downtown development with potential for peripheral development on empty sites adjacent and near historic buildings.”

Students also recommended lighting the historic R. J. Corman Railroad Bridge, an idea that was adopted in 2015 and is mimicked in the LED color-changing lighting in the new Downtown Commons. Other areas of downtown redevelopment proposed by students include improvement to walkability and major thoroughfares; a public terrace and parking structure; upgrades to the Roxy Theater; redevelopment of the transit center site; and a potential assisted living center.

Once final designs were complete, students produced The Downtown Clarksville Urban Design Study, a 75-page book, and distributed 100 copies to Clarksville’s civic leadership, downtown stakeholders, and the design and development community.  They also presented their designs to town leaders at city hall in August 2012.

Clarksville Downtown Commons full view

“Now, after six years of tenacious effort, the Downtown Commons has opened,” said Davis.  “I’m deeply proud of our students’ work that contributed to helping Clarksville recover from Mother Nature’s devastation and bring life back to the downtown area, and I hope this is just the beginning.

“This new public placemaking achievement has been called by developers a game changer in the real estate development of the city and is generating excitement throughout Montgomery County.”

The ultimate built design of Downtown Commons was professionally designed by Lyle Cook Martin Architects in Clarksville and Hodgson Douglas Landscape Architecture, Planning and Urban Design in Nashville.

“The proposition of a new commons or public square occupying the Bank of America block was a novel concept and one that could only have come from fresh perspectives that well-tutored students possess,” said Lane Lyle, a partner with Lyle Cook Martin Architects and a 1974 graduate of the School of Architecture. “Our downtown had been studied and dissected by a host of urban activists, designers, and so forth for over 30 years, and [a town square] had never been considered before and was entirely original.  Other proposals, although less radical, may likewise bear fruit in the future.  Our community owes a great debt of gratitude to TK [Davis] and the College of Architecture and Design for this effort,” he said.

“Most revitalization in American cities begins with public space,” said Matt Lyle, Lyle Cook Martin Architects and 2010 graduate of the School of Architecture during a Leaf-Chronicle Facebook Live interview, “and the investment pays back tenfold.”

Already, a diverse series of events is scheduled for the new space, including a monthly concert series.

“This is yet another example of outreach engagement by UT’s School of Architecture leading to improvement of the lives of the citizens of Tennessee, consistent with the university’s historic land-grant mission,” said Davis.

The Nashville Urban Design Program has its origins as design classes taught in Nashville in 1995 by Prof. Emeritus Mark Schimmenti.  Schimmenti contributed to the founding of the Nashville Civic Design Center in 2000 and served as its first design director.  Four years later, Prof. Thomas K. Davis became the design director and began teaching the Nashville Urban Design Program studio in residence at NCDC.  In this studio, students from the College of Architecture and Design spend summers in Nashville envisioning urban reformation and design for the Nashville area.  For details, visit archdesign.utk.edu/projects/nashville-urban-design/.  For more information about the College of Architecture and Design, visit archdesign.utk.edu.