UT Team Develops iPhone App to Drive Tourism in Downtown Knoxville

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KNOXVILLE — Downtown Knoxville’s economy may see a boost thanks to a free iPhone application developed by University of Tennessee researcher Eric Ogle and Associate Professor of Art Sarah Lowe in collaboration with three local nonprofit organizations including the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, the Carpetbag Theater and Double Apps Inc.

Called the Beck Tour app, the mobile phone application features 14 historically and culturally significant sites in and around downtown Knoxville. Via a map of downtown, users can read narratives, view photos and even watch short videos created by actors at the Carpetbag Theater.

“It’s the first of its kind. Looking at the App Store, there is nothing like it anywhere. It’s a novel idea from that regard – being able to take community-generated content and present that in a tourism point of view – it is definitely a new concept,” said Ogle, research associate at the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment’s Community Partnership Center.

The app traces the history of African-American culture in Knoxville. It is called the Beck Tour after the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, which preserves and exhibits African-American culture.

“African-Americans played an important part of the development of Knoxville from slavery all the way to civil rights. Some of the pivotal moments of the civil rights story happened in Knoxville,” said Ogle.

For instance, the Tennessee Theatre had segregated entrances and was the site of peaceful protests.

“A story that is in the Beck app tells the story of how black entertainers could go and entertain at the Tennessee Theatre but had they been a guest, they couldn’t go and see themselves,” recalled Ogle.

Lowe designed the application, even involving one of her classes in the Web-based tour aspect of the app. The programming of the Beck Tour was developed by software developer David Levi and his company, Double Apps Inc.

While the Beck Tour may be the first of its kind, it won’t be the last. The developers plan for the Beck Tour to serve as a framework for other tours such as the Cradle of Country Music tour which already has signage around downtown Knoxville. Ogle has even consulted customers such as the city of Dallas about an app mapping out events for this year’s Super Bowl.

“We also hope it’s an economic development tool that businesses can really benefit from because the goal is to get people to come to downtown and stay as long as possible,” he said.

Another possible result of this technology and tourism crossroads is a boon to community pride.

“There is a return to the community in that cultural identity,” said Ogle. “People—even locals—will take the tour and will learn about the cultural significance of some of the sites and a lot of the good things that have happened in Knoxville’s history.”

To find out more about the Community Partnership Center, visit http://isse.utk.edu/cpc/.

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