Community unites around Candy Factory

KNOXVILLE – More than 80 people gathered on the seventh floor of the Candy Factory in response to Mayor Bill Haslam’s planned sale of a hub of community activity. Council members Joe Hultquist, Bob Becker, Chris Woodhull, and Rob Frost attended the meeting as well as Dr. Bill Lyons who represented the Mayor’s office.

Speakers from various groups addressed the integral part that the Candy Factory has played in their organizations. Artists, dancers, musicians, and others gave witness to the unique character of the building and how it serves them as part of the whole community.

Among the speakers was Margaret Maddox of the Discovery Center who asked for consideration with regard to relocation time. The Knox Area Medical Association Health Discovery Center is located on the fifth floor of the Candy Factory. Their exhibit would need adequate lead time for dismantling and shipment to a future site.

Judy Polson, President of the Knoxville-Knox County League of Women Voters, pointed to her group’s 10-year affiliation with the Candy Factory and highlighted the unique qualities of the Candy Factory that may prove difficult to replace such as central location, free meeting space, and an inclusive community spirit.

The most spirited speaker was Dr. Michael Kaplan, retired professor of architecture at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His challenges to the Haslam administration arose with regard to inconsistent statements about the criteria for the building’s use that were reportedly taken from the Mayor’s own Web site. The comments were met by ridicule on the part of Dr. Lyons who accused Kaplan of reading his “own edition” of the information regarding the proposed plans for the building.

Bill Lyons serves the Mayor’s office as Senior Director of Policy Development and also currently serves on the Board of Directors for Knoxville Urban League. He took questions from the audience and, by his own admission,” lost his temper” more than once in addressing the group’s concerns regarding plans for the building.

From a press release on the City of Knoxville Web site, the proposed usage for the building reads “ Candy Factory - Family-oriented, arts and/or related galleries, working studios on some floors, entertainment and retail on some floors, and a restaurant/lounge.”

The “family-oriented” description raises questions regarding whether future plans for the building will remain culturally and politically as inclusive as previous usage has been.

The Candy Factory has historic significance to the Knox area GLBT community. In addition to being the site of monthly membership meetings of Knoxville Cares, the site has been the setting for Knox-stalgia Heritage Night and numerous past Pride events including a mass commitment ceremony a couple of years back.

The building has also been integral to other progressive organizations such as the East Tennessee Progressive Network and the Knox Area Coalition for Common Justice.

Knoxville ’s City Council must approve the sale of the building before it can be finalized.

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