KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) —The Knoxville Community Development Corporation on Wednesday held a groundbreaking ceremony for the start of the Western Heights transformation plan, a $200-million public-private project to revamp, renew, and reconnect Knoxville’s largest public housing community.

Nearly 200 units of affordable housing currently at Western Heights will be rebuilt as part of the project and 283 new units of affordable and market-rate housing will be built to create a diverse, mixed-income community. New public parks, green spaces, and recreation amenities will be built. The plan also includes initiatives to improve access to education, healthcare, internet connectivity, and employment.

Construction will begin in the coming months and happen in four phases. Phase 1, which is expected to last 18 months, will provide 76 units; 31 subsidized replacement units, 30 affordable units and 15 market-rate units. Phase 2 is expected to be finished in 2026, Phase 3 in 2027 and Phase 4 in 2028.

Part of the funding for the project was given from a $40 million HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant that was announced in 2022. The city is investing $4.2 million in infrastructure, as a part of the $26.5 million committed over multiple budgets.

According to KCDC, more than $220 million in public and private funds have been committed to supporting the redevelopment plan.

“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,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said.

“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.”

The neighborhood component of the plan will address safety, transportation, open spaces, arts and cohesiveness of the community according to a release from KCDC. Two larger parks will be built in later phases and include a hillside climbing park, playground, and splash pad with spaces for “creativity and entrepreneurship to build a new neighborhood economic center.”

The people component of the plan aims to enhance the quality of life of the area’s residents by focusing on various aspects such as education, healthcare, internet access, opportunities for youth, employment, and access to affordable and fresh food. To achieve this, several nonprofit organizations will collaborate and offer supportive services, programs, and activities, with CAC leading the people component.

“There are many partnerships that we are trying to finalize right now. Those cover a number of areas; internet connectivity, access to healthcare,” said Bentley. “There’s going to be a component of workforce development, potentially, entrepreneurship as well. We have several community partners lined up in that space that are going to bring not only the ability to have job training right here in the community but more importantly the ability to create a business that’s sustainable.” 

“We really underestimate the importance of access to resources. There are people that don’t have great transportation options in some cases, or they have other barriers to accessing things. If we can bring those right to their community, it’s going to impact them, their children, for years to come,” said Bentley.  

The first step in this initiative was completed in October 2022 with the opening of the Western Heights Head Start center, which offers preschool programs for neighborhood children from infant to age 5. To follow the plan as it continues, click here.