Knoxville at a Glance
Location: East Tennessee
Access: McGhee-Tyson Airport; interstates 40 and 75
Hotel rooms: 1,800 within one mile of convention center; 9,200 in the county
Knoxville Convention Center
Exhibit Space: 120,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 14 meeting rooms
Knoxville Expo Center
Exhibit Space: 78,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 7 meeting rooms
World’s Fair Exhibition Hall
Exhibit Space: 70,000 square feet
Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center
Exhibit Space: 57,100 square feet
Marriott Knoxville Downtown
Guest rooms: 302
Meeting Space: 17,746 square feet
Guest rooms: 320
Meeting Space: 13,814 square feet
Who’s Meeting in Knoxville
Congressional Medal of Honor Society
Alpha Kappa Alpha
National Street Rod Association
Knoxville is an Appalachian city — by culture, if not by inside-the-city-limits mountains — but it also is a river city. The Holston and French Broad rivers converge here to create the Tennessee River, which flows through three more states before reaching the Ohio River. The river and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains shape Knoxville’s identity and help make this metro area of almost 900,000 people ready for meeting groups’ business and enjoyment.
In addition to being a mountain city and a river city, Knoxville also is home of the University of Tennessee’s main campus. The university’s 31,000 students add a special vibe to the city, especially in football season when up to 101,915 fans file into Neyland Stadium. The stadium is one of only two college stadiums reachable by boat, and the Vol Navy — the conglomeration of pontoon boats, houseboats and runabouts that ties up just outside the stadium — is a quite a sight.
Downtown Knoxville, just blocks from the UT campus, is a destination itself and the site of the city’s convention center and major hotels. It is walkable, vibrant and, in places, quite colorful because of an array of murals. There’s even a murals walking tour (download an app or pick up a map at the visitor center on Gay Street).
The American Planning Association named the city’s primary corridor, Gay Street, to its Great Streets in America list. Two of its biggest draws are the Tennessee Theatre (a 1928 movie palace transformed into a modern performing arts center) and the more intimate Bijou Theatre (a now-restored Vaudeville showplace).
Just off of Gay Street is a bustling area any city would envy — Market Square. It is a pedestrian space surrounded by shops and restaurants and regularly enlivened with special events, including a real farmers’ market much of the year. Among the events are outdoor concerts, summertime movies and “Shakespeare on the Square” productions.
Another downtown zone is simply called the Old City. Its old buildings have new uses as boutiques, nightclubs and barbecue joints, as well as places to enjoy craft cocktails, sushi, pizza and, in a college town, beer. In Old City’s future is a $74.5 million multi-use 7,000-seat stadium for the Knoxville Smokies baseball team. The first cry of “Play ball!” will be in 2024.
Major Meeting Spaces
The 500,000-square-foot Knoxville Convention Center and the Knoxville Museum of Art share World’s Fair Park as their backyard. In partnership with the art museum, the convention center offers meeting attendees a wide-ranging collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, murals and other works of art. The Sunsphere, the 266-foot-tall signature structure of the 1982 World’s Fair, demarks the neighborhood. The Sunsphere’s gleaming gold exterior makes it impossible to miss.
The World’s Fair Exhibition Hall provides another 70,000 square feet of space in the immediate vicinity of the convention center. Two venues away from downtown have even more space. Chilhowee Park and Exposition Center is east of town with 57,100 square feet of exhibit space (plus a 4,500-seat amphitheater), and the Knoxville Expo Center is northwest of the city center. It bills itself as the largest privately owned exposition center in Tennessee.
In a city with as many historic, cultural and leisure-oriented facilities as Knoxville has, planners can work variety into their meetings.
An event at the Knoxville Museum of Art is a highlight for many meetings. The museum, which celebrates East Tennessee’s visual culture, is downtown and convenient to the major meeting hotels. Its primary permanent exhibition is “Higher Ground,” which features more than a century of East Tennessee art, and a big topic of conversation is “Cycle of Life.” It is one of the largest figurative glass-and-steel works of art in the world. The artist is Knoxville native Richard Jolley.
The grand Tennessee Theatre on Gay Street is another memorable event venue. Built in 1928 as a movie palace, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. A $25.5 million project in 2005 transformed it into a multi-use performing arts center.
For a fun night out, Maple Hall, also on Gay Street, lets attendees cut loose for an 11-lane bowling experience enhanced by conversation lounges, a full bar and a hefty food menu. More fun-style exercise is available at the award-winning Zoo Knoxville. Enjoy a meal, a stroll and visits with animals from A to Y (African elephants to yellow-backed duiker antelope). Yet another way to get outdoors is with an event at the Ijams Nature Center, a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary minutes from downtown.
After the Meeting
When a Knoxville meeting concludes, attendees easily can spend an extra day in town. Enjoy a walk or a jog at Volunteer Landing, Knoxville’s riverfront park on the Tennessee River, or watch the river flow by at a waterfront restaurant. Even better, take a trip on the Star of Knoxville or Volunteer Princess riverboats, which dock at Volunteer Landing.
Leisure activities abound no matter which direction you head out from town. On the horizon to the south is America’s most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Before you get there, however, you’ll pass the myriad attractions and diversions of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The most popular of those is the Dollywood theme park, Tennessee’s most visited ticketed attraction.
While the Great Smoky Mountains have their special appeal, less crowded mountain destinations are to the northwest at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. One way to start that trip is on the Norris Freeway, a new Tennessee Scenic Byway, covering 21 miles along the Clinch River and across the top of the TVA’s Norris Dam. Also in that general direction is Oak Ridge, which earned its nickname of the Secret City because it sprang up as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb in World War II. It is one of three units of Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The others are in Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
If you head out to the northeast, there’s another mountainous destination to explore. It’s Cumberland Gap National Historical Park along the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. This was a major gateway to the west as European settlers spread into the interior of North America.