Even in the Quietest Parts of Downtown . . .

 

KGIS Map of the neighborhood surrounding Riverhouse, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking only at the shiniest, most exciting or prominent projects. It’s hard to miss the big things happening, such as the old KUB/new Tombras building, the Marriott Hotel construction on State and Church, the Pryor Brown Garage, the Regas Square project. All of them are pushing the envelope on downtown development. Sometimes the quiet corners are missed. And sometimes they are pretty active.

The short 600 block of Hill Avenue is one of those spots. Most easily accessed via Locust Street, abutting Henley, shoved right at the end of the bridge, with most of the rest of the length of Hill all the way to Gay being consumed by the City County Building complex, it’s easy to forget this little gem of downtown. And it’s not as sleepy a spot as you might imagine. Things are happening.

Mary Boyce Temple House, 623 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

Mary Boyce Temple House, 623 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

The building most discussed in recent years is the Mary Boyce Temple House, built in 1907. When I first wrote about it, nearly four years ago, Brian Pittman was in the process of returning it to its glory after a very sordid interlude. The house could easily have been torn down if not for his dogged determination. The rich irony of saving the home is that its namesake, Mary Boyce Temple, was, in her day, instrumental in preserving Blount Mansion, which had fallen on hard times.

Now beautifully restored, the home at 623 W. Hill is a showcase and the only inhabited single-family home built specifically for that purpose downtown. It joins Kendrick Place as the only historic structures built as homes and serving that purpose today in the downtown area. Adjacent to it is a small building, set back from the street and also lovingly preserved by Brian.

Built in 1946, it was built as a duplex as a part of the Aston Motor Court, which at that time included a sub-divided Mary Boyce Temple House, letting rooms for the night to travelers headed to the Great Smoky Mountains. After the motel closed, the house and the duplex became apartments. The smaller building is now a single-family home.

The Former Lord Lindsey, 615 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

The other building many long-term Knoxville residents will remember, is the building which housed the former Lord Lindsey at 615 W. Hill. Constructed in 1903, and once owned by Kristopher Kendrick, the property was sold in 2010 to settle his estate, for $550,000. Unlike many downtown properties, it’s not found its use in the new era of downtown development. A singular and unique building, in the right hands and with the proper use it can be a spectacular part of downtown, once again. Currently listed by Cappiello Real Estate (865-247-7809), the building is listed for $1.25 million for purchase or $10,000 per month for lease.

Across the street from these properties, on the south side of Hill Avenue, three buildings face the ones just described. On the corner of Henley and Hill, facing the Mary Boyce Temple House from 618 W. Hill, is a beige, rambling building housing the law offices of Hogan and Hogan. It boasts one of the sweetest decks in the city with a view of the mountains, overlooking the river and with a front-seat view of the fireworks.

618 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

616 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Adjacent to that building, at 616 W. Hill is a former single-family residence built in 1930. Subdivided into offices for years, it was recently purchased by Kevin and Melinda Grimac and is being updated and refurbished. Two clients will enter the space as of March 1. Suite 100 will be the new home to GEI Consultants, Inc., “One of the nation’s leading geotechnical, environmental, water resources, and ecological science and engineering firms.”

While “mid-sized and employee owned, they have supported “35,000 projects in 50 states and 22 countries.” Of their new location, they said, “Our new Knoxville office allows us to better service our clients in the region and will be led by Hank Julian and Patrick Massey. Hank and Patrick both have significant expertise and experience in all aspects of civil and environmental engineering, groundwater modeling, surface water modeling, water resources and hydro-geology.

Best Behavior Creative Club, which I profiled in December 2015, will move into suite 200. Most recently maintaining offices at the Knoxville Office Suites in the Arcade Building, the group has seen explosive growth requiring a larger space. Chris McAdoo, owner of the business, told me of the move, “We’re excited to take on more branding, web, and multimedia projects – and we’re especially happy that we get to stay downtown as we do it. The new location will be home base for our team and will serve as studio and recording space for upcoming podcasts and other original content. AND our all new blog kicks off this coming Monday, February 27th with “21 Days of Best Behavior.” You can hear more from Chris this Sunday morning on Knoxcentric: Powered by Inside of Knoxville at 10:00 AM on WUTK, 90.3 when he’ll be my guest on the weekly radio show.

Historic Riverhouse, 614 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Historic Riverhouse, 614 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Finally, Historic Riverhouse, located next door at 614 W. Hill, is one of the prettiest, relatively unknown downtown buildings. Constructed as an apartment building in 1929 with an unusual (for our city) flat roof Spanish Colonial Revival style, the fifteen units were purchased by Kristopher Kendrick in 1987 at which time he selected its current name. Over the years, more units came under individual ownership and an HOA was formed. John Sanders owned seven units at one point, six of which he purchased from Kristopher and five of which he sold just last year, giving the building probably the largest number of owners in its history.

Vacant Land on Front Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Finally, it takes a little exploration, but a tract of land directly behind (to the south) of this neighborhood is being offered for sale by Goldman Partners Realty (865-247-7809). You might think the bluff falls directly to Neyland Drive but, in fact, a small shelf of land sits between the neighborhood and the river, with access provided by a one-lane paved remnant of Knoxville’s Front Avenue, which, as you might be able to strain your eyes on the map included to see, used to be the closest road to the river. It actually intersects with Broadway in the edge of Maplehurst. I’d never realized either road remained.

Vacant Land on Front Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Intersection of Front Avenue and Broadway, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

You might think this spit of land not large enough for significant development, but I spoke to Steve Goldman who told me the property has, “been under contract for months,” to an “out of state” group of investors he did not identify. Word elsewhere is that the group in question is California-based Cogent Bay, Inc., though I was not able to confirm that. Their site does indicate they are in pre-development for “luxury Knoxville apartments” providing “300 units for students.” That’s a large building, which would sit just to the east of the Henley Bridge overlooking the river.

So, a semi-hidden, small piece of the downtown landscape has some pretty intense activity happening in early 2017. Major changes are at hand for downtown in every direction. It’s important to track them as we very quickly set a course for the next decades in our small urban enclave.

 

Comments

  1. Brian Scott Pittman says:

    Alan always does great work letting folks know whats going on in a calm and logical way. Up or down, good or bad. I appreciate this and I appreciate Alan’s time and work. But I’m not too tickled about this project at all. We have invested our every penny to save these two houses and save them we did. Along with the Hogan’s and the fine folks at Riverhouse, looking forward to the Grimac’s purchase uses now and in the future, we feel good and secure not to mention proud of our hard work and hand holding to keep this corner south-western corner of downtown-the southern gateway to downtown, warm and inviting, friendly and quiet. Nothing much fires me up than to imagine spending my every cent and some of your folks money too, to save great old houses only to be shadowed out by nameless companies from out of state to move in and make their money and leave our corner no long a quiet historic residential street welcoming all into downtown but rather a big 300 unit tower of students slammed up next to the bridge. I resent it actually. I’m an architect so I support development. But as a property owner too, while our downtown gets tighter and tighter, that we think more and more, plan better and better, and really think about what kind of downtown we want.

    Our downtown has matured and grown in a most organic and beautiful way and it shows. Thats why folks even not from here, enjoy our little square mile of urban land mixed up with all kinds of neat buildings and not so neat buildings. I would encourage us all to start thinking about ways to ensure we build only the former and less of the latter for there’s not much land left to utilize. Once something like that gets built it’s there for a long time. Do we as a downtown, as a city, really want a tower welcoming folks to downtown with students towels on railings, broken umbrella’s, and beer cans saying “welcome to Knoxville” or do we want to encourage it to be a charming quieter more southern welcome that befits the last strip of historic residential street in all of downtown? I encourage us all to stay tuned and be proactive about what happens over here. A single gun with a single bullet can ruin this block. We should be able to decide if we can take that silver bullet or not.

    Thank you Alan for the place to make this story known and give the citizens, involved and not involved, a place to discuss it.

    • As a resident of the same side of downtown and out of concern for the addition of more student housing in our lovely multi-generational and historic community (student housing is also supposedly still coming across the river at the former Baptist Hospital site and students already fill affordable apts throughout downtown) I wholeheartedly agree with you, Brian. What can concerned downtown residents do to stop it?

  2. Love it. How I wish Lord Lindsays would tease me across Henley for a glass of wine in the garden patio. And, out my window- a B&B becoming housing for college girls-they also did Laural H.S. and the other property out my window rumor has,becoming an Air B&B-just common Maplehurst grapevine gossip.

  3. How coincidental, I passed the Mary Boyce Temple House on my way to the dentist yesterday, and recalled your article.

  4. I think an opportunity was lost when Church Street UMC put money into leveling and improving its parking lot on Hill. That would have been a great spot for residential development with incredible views and perhaps parking for the church could have been maintained via a sublevel garage.

    The best hope I see for all the new student housing complexes is that it becomes part of a shift in the student population to where houses in Ft Sanders are again occupied by non-student owners who live there year round and are invested in the neighborhood. That’s a long shot, but Ft Sanders really is the most convenient neighborhood for someone working downtown that wants a house within walking distance. It deserves more than it is getting.

  5. MIKE COLLINS says:

    RE the vacant lot on Front Ave: I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy…the last thing needed in Knoxville is more student housing, a market already greatly over saturated. On top of which (and God love them), students are not always the best neighbors. Short term, the developer will likely do well; long term, less than well.

    • It’s a terrible idea. There are already about 1000 planned units for students being built. And students aren’t ALWAYS bad neighbors. Usually the ones who party the most are the ones whose parents can afford to drop $2000+ a month on a cottage in the Retreat. But some people besides students might like to live in these places. Especially Cumberland avenue. I just hope the development on the old Exxon site (good riddance. That gas station was run by crooks) can include apartments for everyone.

  6. Anne Pittenger says:

    Hill Avenue is a wonderful street. William Blount built his house there and enjoyed views of the river and the mountains he had crossed. Our mayors enjoy the same superior views from their offices. Mary Boyce Temple, a woman of considerable means, chose Hill Avenue for the lovely home that Brian Pittman enjoys now. Hill Avenue has been home to people in the know since 1792, and it continues to flourish! Great piece, U G!

  7. If you cross Henley on Hill there’s some development happening over here, too, and I’d love your investigative journalism about it. 800 W Hill Ave (former Maplehurst Inn B&B) has been purchased by TRIPLEM PARTNERS LLC, and they’re doing a good deal of work on it. 802 & 804 W Hill Ave, the brick duplex next door, has been purchased by MARBLE ALLEY 3 LLC, and it also has some considerable construction work going on. Anyone know the plans/timeline/etc.?

  8. Dee Pierce says:

    Thanks for putting a spotlight onto riverside properties. While you’re at it :-), could we get an update on the future of the existing “grand” Marriott Hotel? The River Hill Gateway neighborhood has caught wind that it may already be up for sale. Is that true? And if it is, is the city doing anything to help market it to the right buyer to maintain redevelopment efforts on the riverside? Thanks for all you do, Alan.

  9. More student housing. Great. Literally the last thing we need. Newsflash: Local students can live in regular apartments. And it costs a lot less. I would know. And yes I know that student housing is great for non-local students because most of them go home in the summer/winter, but many of the students in these luxury student housing (Quarry trail, the retreat, evolve) are local. So instead of their parents shelling out $1200+ a month for unnecessarily luxurious student housing, they could pay about $700 a month for a very nice one bedroom apartment close to campus/downtown that anyone can apply for. Luxury student housing is a dangerous bubble. And it’s about to burst.

    • Also, there goes that marvelous view Alan described, from the rear deck of 618 W. Hill Avenue. Not all progress is good…period.

    • Brian Scott Pittman says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Development that fits downtown is fine but student housing will just make downtown like Ft. Sanders. I also don’t understand the need or why we allow out of town investors to come into our area’s develop, make their cash, then leave. What is their incentive to do good work, design or construction? I agree.

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