New “Downtown Oak Ridge” Possibilities FOCUS ON WILSON STREET

UPDATED: APRIL 2021
POSTED: DECEMBER 16, 2019

Oak Ridge was born during the Manhattan Project without a centralized, mixed-use downtown. Over the decades, multiple plans have called for creating such a place - where Oak Ridgers can live, work and play! The Wilson Street corridor, bordering Main Street shopping near the new American Museum of Science & Energy (AMSE) location and easily accessible from the Turnpike and A.K. Bissell Park, provides a great opportunity to finally have a distinctive, uniquely Oak Ridge place for us to gather. The existence of a more urban environment, featuring apartments, condos, restaurants, local shops, offices and beautiful green space, will attract new and different businesses to Oak Ridge —helping to fortify our tax base.

 

In the Fall of 2019, the City prepared a vision for this new city-center.  With a well-received vision in place, a few critical tasks were needed to help encourage new development:

  • New Downtown zoning district: the Community Development Department drafted standards for a new district, to be titled “D-1 downtown zoning district” and it was adopted by Planning Commission and City Council in late 2020/early 2021.  Property in the corridor has been rezoned and is ready to go.  For more information on the D-1 zone, click here.


  • Property Acquisition: having sufficient, properly zoned, reasonably priced property is a key to encouraging projects to materialize.  Over the last year, owners of vacant parcels have been contacted and deals have been struck.  A significant share of vacant property is now in hand and ready for resale to developers, while progress continues on the balance of vacant land. 


  • Soliciting Development: over a dozen real estate developers have met or talked with City staff about the prospect for new development in accordance with the plan.  The announcement of new 'downtown' projects are anticipated in 2021 or soon after.  If you would like to learn more about developing in Downtown Oak Ridge, contact: Wayne Blasius, wblasius@oakridgetn.gov; 865-425-3585.






Learn more:

The City of Oak Ridge secured grant funding for this project under an agreement with the State of Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) and coordinated through the regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) for the purposes of envisioning a new “Downtown Oak Ridge.” The goal of the study was to explore what could be along the Wilson Street corridor, including multi-story, mixed-use development adjacent to the ongoing retail redevelopment of Main Street Oak Ridge. This location will serve as a catalyst for new and expanded growth.

Joe Minicozzi, Principal of Urban3, highlights the value of downtown development and the implications of different growth patterns on city coffers in the video below...



“Beginning with the Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge was born without a distinct downtown,” explained Community Development Director Wayne Blasius. “We worked with local stakeholders and a team of highly-skilled economists, engineers and architectural designers to create a vision of how this could be put into motion.”

WUOT 91.9FM aired segments on the downtown development project in early December 2019. You can listen to the story or read it in full by clicking the links below:

Over the years, multiple plans have highlighted the need for a central downtown that can leverage new development and foster a stronger sense of identity and community, from the 1988 Comprehensive Plan, to the City Center Plan in 2000, and most recently in the 2019 Oak Ridge City Blueprint and amendments to the Main Street development plan.

The ideas were guided by traffic analysis and land use projections for the Oak Ridge market. The City of Oak Ridge and its Industrial Development Board have already improved Wilson Street by resurfacing the roadway and upgrading the curb, gutter, drainage system, and underground utilities.

The final examples for the new downtown work included a mix of retail, restaurant, residential, and/or office uses with an attractive streetscape and pedestrian connectivity. Click here to view the street art ideas developed as part of the project.

  
You can also download and view a project overview by clicking here.

Questions about the new downtown planning process or any other Community Development project can be directed to the department by calling (865) 425-3531 or by emailing wblasius@oakridgetn.gov.