A Look at the Former Baptist Hospital: Present and Future

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, April 2014

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, April 2014

As I said a couple of days ago, my walk to south Knoxville originally started as a trip to look at the progress of the Baptist Hospital demolition, but then I got distracted, first by CityView and then by Record Day at Disc Exchange. I did, however take a look at the progress on the demolition.

So far, only one end has been removed. The western-most end next to the Henley Street Bridge is gone. This includes one large portion of the building and the helicopter port. It already makes for a strange sight when you look across the river and see the hill behind where that portion of the hospital sat.

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, October 2013

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, October 2013

The project seems to be on schedule. According to Josh Flory and Carly Harrington, reporting onthe project last June, the hope was for the first phase of demolition to take place during the first quarter of this year. It came really close. The same article said that the 125-150 million dollar project will include, “up to 350 apartment units, an additional 225 units of student housing and a 150-room hotel,” when completed. The initial phase of construction was slated to be the student housing.

There are a number of questions and concerns which have been raised about the use and design of the new construction. As to use, one might question the usefulness of more hotel rooms when downtown Knoxville has a relatively low occupancy rate most of the time and plans have been proposed or announced to add additional rooms at four different downtown locations. Even those projects have been questioned. I also wonder whether a hotel across the river would be more desirable than staying in the heart of downtown.

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, April 2014

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, April 2014

The need for more student housing has me scratching my head. Student housing has been proposed for the old federal courthouse site, more is being built on campus and the recently completed sorority houses on the western fringe of campus look as if they would hold half the student population. This is not to mention the fact that many students already live all over downtown. The size of the student body has remained stable for some years, I believe, so where are these prospective students coming from?

Others have questioned whether students will want to live that far from campus. It seems a reasonable question. It’s a good hike to many buildings on campus and that’s not very conducive to sleeping in. A number of people have indicated they might not be interested in staying in a hotel or living in a nice apartment in such close proximity to so many students. The need for apartments close to or inside downtown, however, seems to be insatiable.

Rendering of proposed Baptist Hospital Site Redevelopment (via WATE

Original (NOW REVISED РSEE BELOW) Rendering of proposed Baptist Hospital Site Redevelopment (via WATE)

The design of the project has also taken quite a bit of fire in social media. I’m no architect, but if I understand the criticism correctly, there are two primary objections. First, the design is not striking and this is what will be facing our south waterfront for a long time. Related to that is the idea that the design is suburban, not urban, with little to no space for retail or other mixed use. I’ve included the artist renderings from Knoxnews and WATE. What do you think? Urban or suburban? Does it have to be an urban design? Would that be preferable?

Finally, when the demolition began, I was called out online for claiming to be opposed to demolitions generally and supportive of preservation efforts while saying “not a word” of objection to this demolition. It was apparently evidence that I’m not willing to speak out against the people who run this city. It was a little bizarre, but it made me think. Why hadn’t anyone raised a voice against the demolition?

 

An artists rendering of the proposed Baptist Hospital Site Redevelopment (via Knox News)

ORIGINAL PLAN UPDATED VERSION BELOW: An artist’s rendering of the proposed Baptist Hospital Site Redevelopment (via Knox News)

Most Recent Rendering of the Plans for the Baptist Hospital Site

Most Recent Rendering of the Plans for the Baptist Hospital Site

I’m not sure if I’m rationalizing, here, so if you think I am, feel free to say so, but I think there are several legitimate reasons this didn’t become a preservationist campaign. The building, built in 1948, stood for just over sixty years, which is a long time, but it isn’t the pre-war age that tends to set off alarms. It was striking in that it was one of the tallest buildings in the county at ten stories and 126 feet. I saw it ranked seventh and eleventh on different lists.

First, I think the worst thing that could have happened was for the building to sit empty, a symbol of a dead dream from the last century. Many cities currently sport a back-log of abandoned hospitals and they become an eyesore, a magnet for vandals and homeless residents and they fall off the tax rolls. In our case, it wasn’t just an empty building, it was an empty building sitting on prime real estate in one of our most visible locations.

So much of the destruction of older buildings results in new parking lots or empty spaces, that the idea of having this property become vibrant and useful again made its destruction seem less a loss and more a gain. Finally, it seems to me to be such a difficult task to find enough alternative use for such a massive and specifically built building as a large hospital, that an alternative including demolition seemed much more likely outcome than a total re-purposing of the existing structure.

The entire demolition is anticipated to take nine to twelve months, so we may not see any construction until that is complete. So, what do you think? Was the demolition a good idea? Should the building have been preserved? Is the planned use the best use? What would you rather see there? Do you like the design? If not, what design changes would you propose?

 

 

The 700 Block of Gay Street to Undergo Major Changes – Eventually

700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Urban environments are complicated spaces. Anyone who witnessed the re-working of the 100 block of Gay Street understands just how complex something seemingly simple can become. The reality is that, often, no one really knows what lurks beneath the surface of old city streets. An overhaul of the 700 block of Gay Street appears to be simpler than the 100 block – it hasn’t been raised more than a story into the air, after all – but surprises may be waiting.

Intersection of Church and Gay, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Intersection of Church and Gay, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

When I learned the block would be re-worked, I assumed a new paving job and a few planters, maybe a bench or two would constitute the bulk of the work. As I learned at a public meeting held last night at the East Tennessee History Center, I was wrong. $800,000 has been budgeted for the work. Ross/Fowler has produced the preliminary designs. Details will be worked out, bids will be taken and a company selected. Work isn’t expected to begin until May – of 2015.

So, what about paving a city street could cost that much money? Well, first, while the 700 block is the focal point, the intersections on each end of that block as well as the intersection of Gay and Clinch a block away, will all be re-worked. Pavers will replace the current bricks. They will be bolted together, though that will not be visible. The shift in material is to allow rainwater to slip through into the gravel and soil below rather than becoming toxic runoff. Additionally, they should require less maintenance than the current bricks.

David Craig speaks of the 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

David Craig speaks of the 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Rick Emmett takes questions regarding the 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Rick Emmett takes questions regarding the 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

The changes only start there. The entire surface of the street and the sidewalks on either side will be replaced. The sidewalks will not only be replaced, they will be made to more closely resemble the brick and concrete of the blocks to their north, although with permeable pavers. Wider trees will be planted on the western side next to the parking lot and more vertical growth trees will be planted next to the buildings on the eastern side. In both cases underground provisions in the form of tree wells will be made for their root growth, with the hopes of increasing their life-span.

Discussions have not yet begun as to finishing touches such as benches, leaners (is that what they are called?), bike racks, etc. The other planned addition is an ornate brick wall which will line the western side of the street between the sidewalk and the massive parking lot. While this is clearly an aesthetic improvement, it also seems to be a tacit admission that we are likely to have a charming parking lot on that site for many years .

Proposed design, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Proposed design, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Proposed intersection design, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Proposed intersection design, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Some confusion seems to exist as to whether the utilities for the block will be upgraded while they are laid bare. Rick Emmett stated that improved conduit for cable and internet connections will be a part of the effort. It seems this is the opportunity to mitigate as much of our outdated underground infrastructure as possible.

The project is expected to take about six months barring unpleasant surprises – which is likely the only kind of surprise in this kind of situation. Plans call for maintaining an open lane for the duration and for all businesses to continue operation. It’s hard to picture the eastern sidewalk being completely replaced while businesses conduct business as normal.

Proposed design, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

Proposed design, 700 Block of Gay Street, Streetscape Plan, Knoxville, April 2014

A question was raised as to the facades on the block – many of which seem to be in danger of crumbling if not attended to. This is particularly true of the upper levels. Rick expressed some optimism that the owners will be looking at that con-current to this project, but it didn’t sound as if any agreements had been reached to that effect. David Craig made it clear that the street width would remain the same, which the urban planners among us will appreciate.

While a public meeting on a street improvement a year before it happens might seem a bit early, it does give the public time for comment and input. Contact Rick Emmett if you have an opinion to express. I really appreciate the fact that the city offers these forums for information and comment. I’d encourage you to consider attending some of them if you have an interest in downtown development.

So what do you think of the changes? Big improvement? Much ado about very little? What else should be included?

Take a Walk on the Southside: Cityview Condos

Baptist Hospital, Knoxville, April 2014

As I mentioned in yesterday's article, I walked to south Knoxville last week. The trip represented the first time I've walked across the new version of the Henley Street Bridge. I have to say the wide swath that remains closed doesn't seem to be … [Continue reading]

Record Store Day – Vinyl in Knoxville? In 2014?

Disc Exchange, Record Store Day, Knoxville, April 2014

How can that be, right? We all know CDs killed vinyl in the 80s and downloads killed CDs in the 2000s. Maybe some esoteric shops in New York City would cater to DJs there, but Knoxville? As it turns out, Jay Nations, probably Knoxville's best known … [Continue reading]

The Downtown Knoxville Week Ahead (4/20 – 4/26/2014)

If you see an event I've missed and you'd like to plug, please comment below or e-mail me (knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com) and I'll try to add it. The list may, accordingly, be expanded through the week. Staying true to the scope of the blog, I'll only … [Continue reading]