Knoxville REI “Flagship Presence” Proposed for Standard Knitting Mill Site

Here is an e-mail I sent to REI – South retail director Gail Kirkland.  The original e-mail contained hyperlinks – I’ve added a few here as well.  Also – I quoted 20 miles as the total mileage for the Urban Wilderness.  I was wrong – it’s over 40 miles of trail just outside downtown Knoxville.

From: Tanner Jessel
Date: Sat, Aug 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM
Subject: Re: Knoxville location
To: Gail Kirkland
Cc: Madeline Rogero, Nick Della Volpe

Hello Gail,

Thanks for taking the time to write on a weekend.

I realize you are busy so I appreciate it.

I’m a fan of spatial data analysis so I appreciate your reasons for choosing Papermill Plaza. But I think Knoxville is a place that has some other variables at play that may not have appeared in your analysis – and I’d appreciate your considering an idea I had for REI.

The reason I wanted to talk to you is I admire REI for restoring historic properties like the Old Mill in Bend Oregon and Traction Powerhouse in Denver.

I think a similar opportunity exists in Knoxville at the former Standard Knitting Mill – a historic textile mill built in the 40s that earned Knoxville the title “the underwear capital of the world.”

Today, Knoxville’s trying to establish itself as an outdoor recreation mecca with urban trails and corridors including an “urban wildernesss“- a network of trails totaling 20 miles on 1,000 acres just across the river from downtown.

Apart from being a 10 minute drive further east for the lucrative West Knoxville market, the knitting mill has the characteristics of Papermill Plaza – plus some unique features you may not have considered.

First, it’s on the way to the Smokies for most residents of all points West headed there. Second, it’s 20 minutes west from Bass Pro Shops and exit 407 in Sevierville. It’s easily integrated into the existing downtown Knoxville shopping scene via a free trolley system – perhaps an “Outdoor Adventure Express” linking the location to Knoxville’s Waterfront. It’s right on the greenway and creek that could one day be a blueway. It’s a short hop from the “Outdoor Knoxville Adventure Center” and University of Tennessee campus – also served by the free trolley system.

It’s big, highly visible off the interstate with two nearby interchanges, and has some development incentives as it’s in an “empowerment zone” with available tax increment financing.

It’s so big (over 400,000 square feet), you could have an indoor whitewater kayak circuit for people to test out equipment. So big you could install an indoor mountain bike course for teaching and trying out equipment, or synthetic ski slopes or climbing walls. Think of the U.S. National Whitewater Center (albeit on a smaller scale) and the mountain biking trails around the Denver store.

I know a big part of REI’s mission is education. I also know for REI and other outfitters to continue doing business – you need to engage young people and create a culture of outdoor enthusiasm to drive purchases of outdoor gear. At this space I’m suggesting for you, you have the room and amenities (greenway, urban wilderness, creek) to do a great outreach – plus the opportunity to lure visitors from exit 407 and serve as a launching point for Smokies excursions, or even guided trips into the Urban Wilderness.

Knoxville is pushing hard for this “outdoor adventure” identity and I think that local policy makers would want to support you on an idea like this. It’d just take a brand like REI to make it possible.

In conclusion I’d really like you to look at making something more than a retail experience in Knoxville- please look at making a retail destination – a regional landmark that draws people in to both the store and the outdoor lifestyle. Bass Pro shops is a real “pro” at that – their store at Exit 407 20 minutes east of Knoxville has an aquarium with indoor waterfall. I know that’s not exactly REI’s style, but you have an opportunity here to make something that is a regional destination, aligned with the City’s aspirations to be a regional outdoor recreation destination.

Thanks for hearing me out. I respect that you’re locked into a lease, but if the store does well and you’re open to having a “flagship” presence in the Knoxville area similar to your Denver “flagship” store, I believe the local membership and community would wholeheartedly – and I’ll even venture to guess financially via incentives or perhaps partnerships – support you.

I’m CC’ing Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and 4th District City Councilman Nick Della Volpe on this suggestion. They are familiar with me from my work on the Greenways Commission.

Thanks again and have a great weekend,



About Tanner Jessel

I am a recent M.S. in Information Science graduate from the University of Tennessee School of Information Science. I was formerly a graduate research assistant funded by DataONE (Data Observation Network for Earth). Prior, I worked for four years as a content lead and biodiversity scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Biodiversity Informatics Program. Building on my work experience in biodiversity and environmental informatics, my work with DataONE focused on exploring the nature of scientific collaborations necessary for scientific inquiry. I also conducted research concerning user experience and usability, and assisted in development of member nodes with an emphasis on spatial data and infrastructure. I assisted with research designed to understand sociocultural issues within collaborative research communities. Through August 1, 2014, I was based at the Center for Information and Communication Studies at the University of Tennessee School of Information Science in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Posted on August 18, 2013, in Civic Life, Personal Life, Professional Life, Scholarly Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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