Market Square: Knoxville, Tennessee

Planning Excellence

Located in the heart of Downtown Knoxville and rooted in the city's history, Market Square is a testament to the effectiveness of community-driven planning and how a mix of uses and historic preservation can work together to revitalize an area. Despite a devastating fire and multiple economic downturns, the square continues to flourish today.

Market Square has a long history as a public space. Examples of the public gatherings on the square date back to the 1880s and include those led by women suffragists — depicted in the Women's Suffrage Memorial — and a speech by Booker T. Washington.

Each April, 25,000 visitors flock to Market Square for the annual Chalk Walk street painting festival. Photo courtesy Kaye Graybeal, Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Before two prominent Knoxvillians donated the land that would become Market Square in 1854, farmers sold their goods in disparate areas across the city. Market Square provided a new, central location for the selling of goods. This consolidation of commercial activity provided benefits that helped propel Knoxville's post-Civil War population boom.

In 1907, a citywide ordinance banning alcohol was passed, and Market Square's popular saloons were forced to close. As streetcars began to provide transportation to suburbs, residents and businesses moved out of downtown. In the 1960s, a devastating fire destroyed the original Market House. As flight from urban areas increased in the 1960s and 1970s, Market Square faced the threat of becoming obsolete as shoppers began to favor large-scale, modern shopping areas and malls. Nearly all of the remaining retail spaces and residences on the square fell empty.

In response, downtown property and business owners banded together and successfully lobbied for the square's nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1993, the newly formed Central Business Improvement District continued the drumbeat of revitalization by pushing for projects that would create a bustling community space and draw investment from, and increase connections to, the neighboring financial district. In 2001, the Knoxville City Council implemented the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission's proposal for a historic zoning overlay in Market Square to protect the architectural character of its buildings.

Decades of dedication and persistence have paid off, and Market Square has once again established itself as the central gathering place and commercial hub for the City of Knoxville. It remains a vibrant place for folks to hear good music, dine, and shop.

As a favorite destination spot for locals and tourists alike, the Knoxville Market Square is a great example of how an engaged citizenry and local government's support for a mix of uses and activities can revitalize the heart of a downtown. The variety of uses and programmed activities ensures that this public space's legacy will continue to benefit the community well into the future.

Children enjoying the family-friendly Market Square splash pad fountain. Photo courtesy Kaye Graybeal, Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Defining Characteristics and Features

  • The Square features the Oliver Hotel, a boutique hotel housed in a building that was originally built in 1876 as the Peter Kern Bakery.
  • "First Friday" events have taken place in the Square since 2008, which offers local artists a venue to show and sell their works.
  • In addition to the litany of street performers and musicians playing in Market Square, Shakespeare on the Square, Jazz on the Square, Movie Night, and Variety Thursday Concerts are offered free of charge during the summer months.
  • A twice-weekly farmers' market continues the tradition of the square and provides access to fresh produce and crafts for seven months out of the year.
  • An ice-skating rink occupies the square for six weeks during the winter.
  • The Sundown in the City concert series regularly drew crowds of 10,000 for 15 years beginning in 1997.

By the Numbers

  • 45 days of an open-air ice rink in the square
  • 62 days of Farmers' Markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays
  • 7 annual Movies on the Square
  • 18 annual Jazz on the Square celebrations
  • 23 historic buildings found within Market Square

Designated Area

Market Square is located in the heart of Downtown Knoxville between Wall Avenue and Union Avenue. It is adjacent to Gay Street, a 2012 APA Great Street designee.

Shakespeare on the Square performance in Market Square, August 2017. Photo by David Silverthorn.

Web Resources

Market Square Homepage

Market Square Farmers' Market

Market Square Design Guidelines, Designation Report and Map