Electric Company Lofts Opens Quietly, Extends Downtown Fringes

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

While it might seem that the stock of older, pre-war downtown buildings available for redevelopment has been expended, there are actually quite a few. Not necessarily located in what we now think of the downtown core, quite a few sit just to the east.

One such building is located at the corner of Willow and McCalla, just a minute or two bike ride from the old city out Willow or Jackson. Currently called Electric Company Lofts, it has recently been redeveloped by Dewhirst Properties into apartments with a small commercial space.

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

View Down McCalla to the Red Brick Market from Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

View of the city from Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017 Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

I recently met Mark Heinz and Drew Holloway to take a look at the recently completed project. Looking at the location, I was struck by the fact that a spot which seemed so far from the city just a short time ago, now seems much closer. Just off the back of the building I could see Overcoming Believers Church, home of the Change Center which has been covered here. From the front of the building I could see the Red Brick Market, which I’ve also covered.

Outside the building is a twenty-two spot, gated parking lot bounded on one side by First Creek. Codes require that any change of use bordering a waterway triggers a sixty-foot requirement for a permeable surface beside the waterway. In this case, the sixty feet in question on the border of this property and the creek was cement. Its removal required approximately fifty truckloads filled with cement to be taken to the dump and the installation of gravel and brick paver surfaces.

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

The result is an amenity for residents, including a common outdoor space with picnic tables. A shelter runs alongside the culvert containing the creek and it’s a perfect spot for storing bikes in a semi-sheltered spot. Several of the floor units have decks extending into the area and privacy will be increased with barriers between them. The result will be reminiscent of the courtyard at the Armature Building. Twenty-two parking spaces are also located on the property.

The building, under the guidance of lead designer Whitney Manahan, has retained as many of the original touches as possible, much like many other Dewhirst properties. The corner rear apartment, which will be a work/live space, will retain the two garage doors, for example, allowing it to be completely opened along one side. Two pads of Work Inventory tickets from the previous business still hang on the wall.

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

The development includes thirty-five apartments ranging from about 500 square feet to about 815 square feet. Total cost was around $4 million, with about ten percent of that being the aforementioned site work. Most of the units are studio or loft apartments and there are two commercial spaces fronting McCalla, one of which has been taken by the University of Tennessee as an art gallery to replace that which was lost on the 100 block of Gay Street. Monthly rent for the apartments range from $695 to $1100.

The building was constructed in 1929, just before building essentially stopped due to the depression and World War II. After serving as a furniture warehouse for many years, it became the home of Efficient Electric, reflecting the shift of the area from mostly residential to light industrial after the 1920s. Most of the original floors remain and markings on beams throughout the space reflect the inventory system used by the electric company.

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Additional wood for shelving is heart pine harvested from other Dewhirst Properties projects such as the JC Penney and Mill and Mine buildings. Heinz spoke with great respect for what that represents – original first growth wood which is now hundreds of years old. He said it is important to them to use the “lightest touch possible,” in their projects, saying there is, “so much interest already.”

So, the eastern boundary of downtown is stretched a bit further. With rumors of a planned baseball stadium for the area likely to become reality sometime in the next ten years, is this part of the warehouse district ready to become a part of the center city? Will people be willing to essentially be modern pioneers for living in this part of town. What are your honest thoughts?

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Electric Company Lofts, Corner of Willow and McCalla, Knoxville, August, 2017

Well, you don’t have to speculate too long, though I’d love to hear what you thought in comments below. The verdict is actually already in. Without a public announcement, in the absence of an advertising campaign and simply by offering the option to people who called asking for a downtown apartment, the building is already, essentially, full. Twenty-two of the units are already occupied. Three others have keys and nine units are leased, but not yet occupied. That leaves only one unit unspoken for.

It’s interesting to consider what this means for demand for downtown housing. The property is certainly outside what anyone would have considered downtown when I started this blog just a bit over seven years ago. It’s in a building and an area that would have been unimaginable for housing in the near past. And it is full of people who are excited to be “downtown.”

Comments

  1. I lost a Maplehurst neighbor to that building. I rode my bike over to take a look. Nice, artsy vibe there!

  2. a) What’s the R factor on those garage doors? Is someone going to have a nasty energy bill?

    b) What is Dewhirt’s obsessions with that horrible ceiling? They’ve left those disgusting boards in several projects ever since the Daylight building. Dirty old socks aren’t socks with character, they’d just dirty old socks. Those filthy boards need to be removed.

    c) Like other Dewhrst projects, the units in this building appear to be lacking in simple things like cabinet space. Is the downtown residential market really that tight that people are willing to forgo the basics?

    d) I don’t understand how a building in the middle of a sea of aging light industrial is an extension of downtown. It’s not anymore downtown than Mechanicsville. Heck, Neyland Stadium is closer to downtown than this building.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Fair enough Steve D. I’ll only bite on “D:” I’m not sure what you define as downtown, but if you consider the old city to be downtown, then this is a couple of hundred yards or so away. I also feel that downtown is expanding. But that’s just me. I’ll leave your aesthetic questions to someone else. 🙂

    • Screw the R factor of the garage doors. You can’t beat being able to pull your car into your kitchen. Forego getting a kitchen table. Buy a pickup, back it in and lower the tailgate.

    • Apparently you are not the demo they are after? The young ones love them.

  3. Alan, I’m sure you love it when you write about one building and get questions on ten more! So in that vein, do you know of any plans for the building on Georgia between Saw Works and Last Day? There is a hole in the roof and it is supposedly infested with bees, but it has a great facade facing Georgia.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I don’t have any information on that one. The last time I heard it discussed, I believe it was for sale, but the price, just in the opinion of the person talking to me, was too high at the time. It’s too bad because that could be a cool little spot if a couple of other buildings were developed there and it would be a great connection between the Old City and Magnolia.

      • Between stroads like Magnolia and Hall of Fame, along with James White Pky, I’m not sure how anything on the east side of those could feel connected to Old City nor Downtown.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

          We’ve certainly done everything we could to cut it off, haven’t we? I feel development is connecting the two despite the poor highway choices we’ve made. This building is straight out of the Old City on Jackson or Willow. You do have to go under JWP.

  4. Brian Nachtrab says:

    Great article! Do you have any information regarding the rumors of the planned baseball stadium? I thought I had read somewhere that the developer behind those plans decided against it.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      All I know is what has been reported: Randy Boyd has purchased large pieces of land in the vicinity with the idea of building a stadium. He owns the Smokies. They are under long-term contract in their current stadium, but it is felt that this is the plan for the area near the Old City. It is likely several years away, if it happens. Randy Boyd is currently busy with other pursuits.

  5. Another great project by Dewhirst and friends! Have watched this project for a couple of years… at least. Pleased that the building is already full and hope it’s success sparks more rehab type development in the area. Alan, could you inquire about the Keller Foundry building and site across the creek? It has been cleaned up and is ready for rehab. Looks like great bones to that building. Thank you!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      It is my understanding that the Keller Foundry Building is now owned by KUB who owns quite a bit of property in the area. I do not have direct information from them regarding their plans, so I’d rather leave it to them to say what they plan for the property.

      • It’s unfortunate that KUB snatched up that property. From what I remember, David & Mark had some cool ideas for the property with it’s vicinity to First Creek, and those ideas would have complemented their amazing work at Efficient Electric. Is there anyone at KUB that you (or we) could ask about their plans? Hopefully not some sort of sub-station. It seems KUB has unwittingly become a property-use barrier between the old city and revitalizing McCalla Ave area. I wonder if they even know what’s going on around them.

  6. Sydney Clinkscales says:

    It’s the gentrification of East Knoxville. Personally, I have several issues and questions for multiple people. To the developers was TIF/PILOT incentives used? To the politicians and developers, why the stealth like moves? Why was there no information available to the public especially to the existing resident at Austin Homes which is just down the street. Were any of these units priced in a median range of existing neighborhoods and available to residents of East Knoxville? Why. do developers, suddenly have a interest in East Knoxville?

    • For that close to downtown, those prices are actually extremely reasonable. Developers are interested because of this section of East Knoxville’s proximity to the city. Urban areas are becoming hot places to live countrywide while the suburbs are dying. It’s just how current real estate trends are. People like to be in walking distance of what they need.

    • Stealth like moves? For anyone who wanted to know, this was a well-known project. Nothing hidden.

      • Another thing, do you really not know why this area might be attractive to developers? It’s proximity to downtown is probably the most obvious. The amount of properties that sit derelict in these areas is disgusting. It’s wonderful to see them being developed and being put to productive use.

  7. Wow those look extremely nice! I love all the quirky touches like the garage doors. I honestly got way too excited early on when I saw the prices because I’m about to move. Too bad they’re all full!

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