Johnson Architecture asked Mike to participate in a multi-day charette for their client, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, to help cast a vision for an underutilized piece of property on the waters edge. The program was ambitious, but the pride for what was there was evident. Their vision was to create a destination, not just for visitors but for the people who live and work in the community, creating spaces for them to interact and learn from each other. The western anchor was the introduction of a new grocery store with retail in order to announce to visitors that they had “arrived” at a special place. This was inspired by local concerns over the food desert, and having to drive 30 miles for groceries was not only inconvenient but had an economic impact on the area as well. As one travels east, views of the existing park on the water appear. In addition, proposed recreation fields, or parcels, give the plan flexibility, and provide opportunities for future growth.
Next is a mountain lodge and government center to consolidate all the city's police, fire, mayor and other administrative functions, as well as house the council meeting room, for private ceremony and educational opportunities. Further east is the creation of a Maker-Space, with studios for showcasing the weaving and pottery skills that go back generations. This is a space that allow visitors and makers to interact, take classes and learn about the history behind the craft. South of the festival lawn is the desire to open the lawn to the river and allow for people to connect visually and physically with the water. The existing festival lawn would remain, while becoming more well organized. The amphitheater would be renovated for concerts and annual festivals that would last several days.
The lawns eastern edge would be an addition to the existing museum that has out grown its current boundary and ability to properly tell the story of the Cherokee Nation. The eastern most edge would be defined by retail on both sides of the street and create a “main street” feel that allows visitors heading west to know they have arrived. Some options called for moving the road along the river, this would divert road noise away from the river and create a larger area between the road and water for people to connect with the water and minimize vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Finally, moving the village that is currently scattered in the hills to the north of the study site would allow it to grow in visibility as a signature element in the midst of all the new concentrated activity.