New Design for Tombras (KUB) Building Approved

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

The first time I remember discussing the KUB building at 620 S. Gay, was on a walking tour led by Kim Trent. I expressed my distaste for it and she pointed out that it is mid-century modern and that maybe I needed to stretch my thinking a bit. I did. I learned to appreciate mid-century modern architecture a little more, which was aided by the preservation efforts a few years ago of the UT Conference Center, another mid-century modern building I didn’t care for at first.

When the original plans for the restoration of the building were announced a year-and-a-half or so ago, the plan was to keep the green-glazed facade, while expanding or creating more windows. That seemed reasonable and I hoped the additional windows would make it more appealing. The sections of small rocks would be removed and that seemed like a good thing.

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Then, last December, the Tombras Group announced their intention to purchase the building and to change the outside. Their move downtown is a great news. I love the quote by Charlie Tombras indicating they used to hide downtown Knoxville when they would bring a recruit to town, safely whisking them between the airport and west Knoxville. He went on to say that downtown is now the primary selling point for recruits and that they want to work in an urban environment, hence the move. But change the facade?

In the months since the initial announcement, the building has been purchased for $2 million and the city has agreed to a 20 year TIF (tax increment financing incentive). Sanders Pace has been retained to develop the design and yesterday that design was approved by the Downtown Design Review Board.

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

It’s a design likely to spark a good bit of conversation. Not traditional in any way, the new design completely alters the external appearance of the building with an eye toward improved lighting in the dark recesses of the building and improved energy efficiency. A new rooftop deck will replace the mechanical structure currently visible on top of the building. To quote the presentation by Sanders Pace, “The primary material palette consists of a rainscreen panel system and a brick veneer. A metal panel system provides an accent to these materials.”

It’s important to note that the “KUB building” is really two buildings which were merged at some point. Further, the building in its present form is the fourth iteration of a facade that has fronted the building. Over the years, the building has incorporated the previous versions, leaving some very odd clusters of columns, for example, inside the southwest corner of the building, which explains why there are no windows planned for that corner in the new design.

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Historic Photo, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

The conversation among the design professionals and architects on the Downtown Design Review Board was interesting. A couple of members expressed some support for the glazed brick, while also expressing enthusiasm for the new design.

The presentation of the older images was helpful in that they illuminated the fact that this building has had each generation place a new design stamp at that address – except for the generation in which downtown was being abandoned. The new design clearly speaks to a modern aesthetic, while including elements which tie it to nearby buildings and Gay Street generally. Marleen Davis summed up the ultimate conclusion of the group succinctly when she said, referring to the building, “new chapter, new statement.”

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), View from Church Street, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), Lighting Image, 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

There are two potential retail spaces fronting Gay Street. Downtown design guidelines call for buildings on the street-level to engage pedestrians. The current plans include a coffee shop on the corner which will be open to the public. The other spot – in the smaller of the two buildings – has not been planned at this point, though expansion of the company’s need for space was mentioned and it seemed less likely to include a commercial business other than the Tombras Group.

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Newly Approved Design for the Tombras Building (formerly KUB Building), 620 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, April 2016

Projected costs for the renovation of the building is in the $8 million range. Including the purchase expense, the project represents a $10 million investment in downtown. The Tombras Group currently has about 170 employees and expects to grow to around 200 in the near future. The current projected timeline has construction starting in July with a completion date in late summer of 2017.

If you’d like to read the architectural details, you’ll find them here.

Comments

  1. That as the new KUB offices and Krutch Park I was referencing.

  2. Knoxville has spent the past 100 years constantly trying to “modernize” it’s appearance. All attempts of the past have resulted in eye sores. That stunning beaux arts brick building on Gay St. that was covered in glass then uncovered a decade ago is a prime example. Build new buildings in all those empty parking ares but please stop trying to make Knoxville something it’s not. Wasn’t the concreting of Market Sq. park enough.

  3. Not a fan of the industrial rectangles fad, but getting rid of the green brick horror is no loss. I wish they’d leave the smaller building facade alone.

  4. Art Wagner says:

    There were other buildings in downtown Knoxville that had their facades badly mucked with in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but not to the permanent extent of that building. And, while it carried some characteristics of Mid-Century Modern, it also violated many of the appearance and openness attributes of that style. As a result, I not sorry at all to see a different visual idea going forward.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Hi KnoxUrbanGuy, I noticed a typo in the last paragraph: Tombras currently has about 170 employees. Great article!

  6. I think we are entering the second phase of three that happen in a city’s revival- the first, preservation-oriented phase is slowly winding up as we run out of pre-war buildings downtown (there are a few stubborn hold outs)… now we are starting the “alter and infill” phase, which will be interesting.

    Buildings, such as this one, that have lost most of their redeemable architectural character or historical significance will start to be updated to current aesthetics. This is a good thing- as you look across downtown it’s easy to see a monolithic architecture we call “historical”- but if you look closely you’ll see a 100 years of changing aesthetic tastes. I’m sure preservationists of the 1930s hated Art Deco- tastes change and so does what is considered “historical.” It’s time our century of designers put their stamp on Knoxville, and do it skillfully as Sanders Pace has here.

    This discussion will only get more interesting as Phase 2 infilling runs out of land in the CBID and we start the third- the expansion of downtown with new buildings, parks, and districts. That will be the testing ground to see if early twenty-first century Knoxville can build better than the last fifty years, so that hopefully twenty second century preservationists will doggedly fight to preserve buildings like the Tombras Group.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      What he (she) said.

      • Melinda Grimac says:

        As a neighbor in the adjacent northside property, I welcome this stunning new design and look forward to the revitilatization of this prominent corner of Gay and Church! Well done Sanders|Pace Architecture!!!

      • It’s he 🙂 we sort of met when I was competing on Team Smuzz. Thanks for keeping us up to date on architecture in Knoxville!

    • For “Phase 3”: Whomever builds that first 10-15 story glass residential tower and sells – not leases – the apartments will die with all the candy in their pockets. It’s Phase 3A of how downtown continues to thrive in the future. Current owners downtown (like us) sell and move up to better locales downtown and the next wave of new downtown buyers can move in.

  7. M. Turner says:

    So far I really like the new designs for the downtown area. I think it will be an eye pleasing change. I also think it invigorate the downtown area in general.

    • Bill Eversole says:

      I agree 100%. As a resident of the Elliot Bulding, just down the street from the KUB building, we are excited to have a plan for the building.

      • Anne Bridges says:

        I agree with Bill Eversole. I am also an Elliot resident and look forward to a new “KUB” building. It will definitely enhance the corner of Gay and Church. Not to mention eliminating the oder that currently emanates from the building.

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