City Council Votes to Impose Historic Protection on Cal Johnson Building

Cal Johnson Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Cal Johnson Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

City Council meetings sometimes provide a bit of drama and such was the case last night when it considered placing the Cal Johnson Building under historic zoning or H1 protection. Essentially, this means it cannot be easily demolished by current or future owners. It also typically means that redevelopment must follow sometimes difficult and involved regulations dictated by the Department of Interior for any renovations, restoration or alterations. The city says they have agreed to allow the current owners, the Dance family, to follow only local Downtown Design Review Board guidelines, but the family says the city may not have that authority.

What’s at stake is a building that has been written about extensively by Jack Neely both when Mayor Rogero proposed the H1 protection and more recently when the Metropolitan Planning Commission declined to accept that proposal. That threw the question to the City Council and set the stage for the drama that unfolded as they discussed a relatively nondescript, but historically significant building which is currently located near Commerce Street just across from Marble Alley.

City Council Meeting, Knoxville, July 2016

City Council Meeting, Knoxville, July 2016

Bill Lyons, Deputy to the Mayor, developer David Dewhirst and local historian and writer Robert Booker spoke on behalf of adding the H1 protection. Dr. Lyons detailed a decade of discussions with the Dance family which have not resulted in improvement to the property. He noted that H1 desgination would not prevent the family from developing the building as they now say they wish to do and David Dewhirst suggested that H1 designation can help a developer by making historic tax credits more likely. Bob Booker detailed the life of Cal Johnson who moved from slave to multi-business owner and noted that virtually every other building associated with African American history in the city has been demolished.

Jed Dance, current patriarch of the family that owns the building, spoke against the overlay. His grandfather bought the buildings in front of the Cal Johnson building in 1948 which, together, are the Bacon and Company offices and warehouses. They bought the Cal Johnson Building in 1976 and he said they have paid taxes and are, “all about saving buildings.” He noted that the family had fought the city twice during those years when the city wanted to demolish the building. He also said they had complied when the city asked them to board up missing windows and when a tour by Kim Trent of Knox Heritage revealed a hole in the roof, they repaired it.

Jed Dance and Arthur Seymour, Jr., City Council Meeting, Knoxville, July 2016

Jed Dance and Arthur Seymour, Jr., City Council Meeting, Knoxville, July 2016

He went on to say the family is ready to redevelop the building or at least improve it and to look for someone to lease it, but that with the complications imposed by an H1 designation it would be more difficult. He said they “have plans and are ready to spend the money,” saying that the last decade they have been thwarted by the recession and then his father’s death in 2013 which resulted in a complicated estate situation only resolved last year.

Arthur Seymour, Jr., a local attorney I last wrote about when he argued passionately for the right of St. John’s Episcopal to demolish two ninety-year-old buildings, echoed the sentiment that this family, not the city has preserved this building. He pointed out that both his boyhood neighborhood and that of Bob Booker had been demolished by the city saying, “the only talk of tearing the building down over the years has been from the city.” Noting there is no evidence they will tear it down and that now that it is more accessible, they will “do something.”

Finally, John King, local attorney, spoke for the family saying “Plans have been submitted to the Downtown Design Review Board and unless this complication is added we will move forward.” He said the guideline question puts the family in the position of not knowing what might be required, concluding, “You have someone who has a historic record of preserving the building.” Bill Lyons responded that only local guidelines would apply and that all of Market Square had been developed under H1 overlay.

Discussion followed in which councilman Nick Della Volpe questioned why the overlay is necessary if the family says they intend to redevelop, suggesting there didn’t need to be more extensive government intrusion. Mayor Rogero responded that it would prevent a wrecking ball from being used now or in the future. A disagreement ensued as to whether the federal regulations may be waived. Finbarr Saunders noted the building has been on Knox Heritage’s “Fragile 15” for years and this would help preserve it, observing he’d been in the building talking to the family as far back as 2004.

Cal Johnson Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Councilman George Wallace said the family should be given additional time to complete their plans. Councilman Duane Grieve countered that the overlay is not an additional burden and that as one of the only downtown structures reflective of the African American experience, it should be protected. He went further to say additional buildings should be similarly protected. Councilwoman Palmer said flexibility hadn’t been offered other building owners and that sometimes plans go awry, so the building should be protected.

In the end the council voted in favor of the overlay by a vote of six to two, with Wallace and Della Volpe voting against the measure and Marshall Stair recusing himself because he works with Mr. King. It will have to be reviewed in two weeks and passed on a second reading. Outside the meeting Mr. Dance told me they still plan to fight it and will have to evaluate the next step. Mr. King said he is, “always concerned when people want to create something that is there is perpetuity. There may come a time when a historic marker would better serve to remember him than to save the building.” He thought for a moment searching for the right word, then said such people are, “presumptuous.”

Essentially, the city is asking the Dance family to trust them that the more stringent requirements of federal regulation will not be imposed and the Dance family is asking that the city trust them that the building will be restored without the potentially cumbersome regulation. The problem seems to be that, though everyone was civil in their disagreements, there is little trust.

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

While it wasn’t mentioned in the discussion, H1 protection not only prevents active demolition, but demolition by neglect can be stopped by the government. Demolition by neglect is what has been happening to the building for many years. The fact that the owners have to be told – according to Mr. Dance – when they have a hole in the roof or windows need to be boarded illustrates the fact. More than a decade has passed with the city requesting the building be improved and it hasn’t happened. No doubt the family does not want the city to have this power.

Also interesting was the statement by Arthur Seymour, Jr. that they only entity to ever discuss demolition has been the city. This, like a number of statements made by Mr. Seymour during the St. John’s controversy, doesn’t withstand scrutiny. The family themselves told MPC in April that they had intended to demolish the rear third of the building in order to improve truck access, but that turned out to be too expensive. So, very recently, demolition of at least a portion of the building has been discussed by the family.

Finally, there is the physical evidence of the family’s lack of stewardship of their property and the lack of civic responsibility displayed by not only their treatment of the Cal Johnson Building, but of the three buildings comprising Bacon and Company itself. As you can see from the photographs, many windows in all their buildings are boarded and often black trash bags hang out of the space.

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Bacon and Company Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Large swaths of the front facade of Bacon and Company are covered with corrugated fiberglass. Black glass panels added in some recent decade cover a portion of the facade, while another portion had these panels removed exposing the glue underneath and nothing was done to improve the facade. A tree grows from a gutter toward the top. Graffiti is allowed to cover the building without any apparent effort to improve it. And these are not even the buildings under discussion.

With properties that have remained blighted for decades, there is little evidence for the city to build upon to have faith in the family’s future plans. Without the H1 overlay, the family – or the next owner – could request demolition permits and there would be nothing the city could do but watch the buildings be destroyed. The family also, perhaps rightly, fears that if they don’t improve the buildings, the city could take them like it should have taken the McClung Warehouses.

What happens next will be interesting. Will the city back down on the intended overlay? Will the family fight them if they don’t? If the overlay is applied will the family refuse to follow through on any improvements? If so, one might question whether they ever intended to do the improvements from the outset. If they allow the buildings to continue to crumble will the city take further action?

It is very unfortunate that in 2016, with property values escalating rapidly and so many people working in different ways to make our downtown and our city a great place, that we have this issue in our midst. If the family wishes to renovate and restore all their buildings with the level of attention we’ve seen given, for example, the JC Penney Building and the Holston Buildings, I’d be happy for them to stay in the city into the next century.

Cal Johnson Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

Cal Johnson Building, State Street, Knoxville, July 2016

If they aren’t going to participate in the rebirth of our city, but rather are going to enjoy the benefits of increased property values for themselves while hurting the property values of those around them, I’d prefer they leave and allow the building to fall into the hands of someone who would love both the buildings and the city. They’ve made a lot of money for many years selling UT and other apparel. The least they could do is spend some of the largess on their own buildings rather than allowing them to be among the most blighted buildings in the center city.

There’s Nowhere To Park Downtown! (Not) City Announces Parking Changes

Market Square Garage during Rhythm and Blooms, Knoxville, Spring 2012 (a good problem)

Market Square Garage during Rhythm and Blooms, Knoxville, Spring 2012 (a good problem)

It’s the only topic guaranteed to be discussed in every city the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. Generations of us have lived in suburbs where the parking expectation is that we park in front of the door we expect to enter. The only garage we want to encounter holds each of our three cars and it’s attached to our house – because we don’t want to get wet!

Urban areas don’t generally offer such options, so discussions and arguments about cars in general, and parking specifically, rage onward. On the one hand, people like me insist there is more than enough parking if people would only be willing to take a (healthy) walk from their cars, while others get angry when they get a parking ticket, refuse to use garages even when they are free or insist on using only their favorite garage every time they drive into the city.

So, what is a city government to do? Build more garages and widen roads while driving people like me insane or narrow roads and clamp down on space devoted to cars while enraging the suburban masses? It’s a conundrum and not one I’d like to have on my shoulders.

The answer is that the plan is ever evolving. Bill Lyons pointed out last night that no one cared a few years back because very few cars drove downtown and they found what seemed to be an ocean of parking relative to the cars. No one bothered with enforcement because what difference did it make? Those days, happily, are gone.

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Regulations, Knoxville, May 2016

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Regulations, Knoxville, May 2016

The city is now making their most recent attempt to provide parking regulation that is “rational, fair and effective,” in Bill Lyon’s words. Changes will take place July 1 designed to address a number of problems such as a patchwork of parking rules downtown, meters that don’t work and uneven enforcement. As it’s evolved over the years, there have been changes both good and bad. He mentioned that Gay Street used to be four lanes until people simply started, of their own volition, parking by the curbs, reducing the street to two lanes.

The changes are a result of an extensive examination of best practices and fundamental principles in the study of parking. Rick Emmett, particularly, has attended a number of conferences and seminars on the topic. One feature the city will retain in the face of credulity on the part of other cities: free night and weekends in garages. No other city does it that I know of and I’m not sure it’s a great idea at this point in our evolution, but it’s certainly popular, so it will remain.

It’s interesting to know the breakdown of available parking in the city. We have 596 street spaces, 5,066 spaces in garages and parking lots and 2500 in the Coliseum garage. Counting the Coliseum, 93% of all downtown spaces are in parking lots or garages. What does this tell us? That the street spaces are the luxury spot and that we’ve completely underutilized a great asset in the parking garage located beside the Knoxville Coliseum.

We also have long-term and short-term rates for parking meters. Short term is sometimes 50 cents per hour and sometimes $1 with a two-hour limit, with no obvious reason for the variation. Long-term metered parking is 15 cents per hour with a ten-hour limit. Some spaces have no meters, but are limited to two hours. Most rates haven’t changed in more than ten years. With most garage spaces costing $1 per hour, the luxury spots (street parking) cost less than the bulk of the spots.

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Meters, Knoxville, May 2016

Bill Lyons Presents New Parking Meters, Knoxville, May 2016

Monthly parking rates are also interesting (and cheap by any city standard). Full rates range from $20 in the Coliseum parking garage to $40 in the Jackson Avenue lot to $85 in the Market Square garage. Downtown residents are given half-off these rates.

So, given this hodgepodge, what does the city plan to do? For a start, new meters (which will be black, not grey like the one pictured) will be installed throughout downtown. These meters actually monitor the spots and have the capacity to be linked to apps which will notify the Public Building Authority (who will monitor downtown parking with the aid of additional officers) when a meter has expired. They also have the capacity to notify drivers where spots are available – but there is no app. at this time. They’ll accept coins (for a range of times) or credit cards for a minimum amount of time required.

Meter rates will increase to $1.50 per hour for short-term parking spaces with the goal of promoting regular turnover and striving for an 85% occupancy rate, which is considered by the industry to be ideal. Long-term meters (the north side of the Gay Street viaduct, for example) will double to 30 cents per hour. Hours will also become consistent: Monday through Saturday, 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM everywhere except Gay Street and the immediate area around Market Square, which will be 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

Monthly rates will also change. The full rate will increase $5 per month to $80, or $2.50 for residents to $40. Conversely, monthly parking in the Coliseum garage will decrease from $20 a month to $15 per month. Dr. Lyons pointed out that a free trolley passes the Coliseum garage every seven to eight minutes and that the walk from there to Gay Street is five minutes.

So, if you work downtown, you have an option of parking in a garage near Gay Street for $80 a month or taking a short trolley ride from the Coliseum and paying $15 a month. Easy decision, to me. Someone present even pointed out that for someone who comes downtown often, it would be worth getting the monthly pass from the Coliseum and not worrying with paying for parking each trip downtown.

Walnut Street Garage, Futre Home of Enterprise Car Rental, Knoxville, October 2015

Walnut Street Garage, Knoxville, October 2015

More changes will come. That app should be down the pike. Increased (and I assume similar) technology will be added to the garages. Changes may be made if portions of this approach don’t work. I have to say it all makes sense to me, though I think our rates are still extremely low. I also wonder if we haven’t passed that point where free parking in garages nights and weekends is a worthwhile idea. Parking isn’t really ever free.

Also, regarding enforcement, if you are one of the people who have banked on the lack thereof, you need to understand it is about to be enforced very well. If you are someone who accumulates parking tickets and never bothers to pay, be prepared to have your car towed the next time you have a parking violation.

So, what do you think? Sensible? Draconian? What would you do if you were the parking czar of the city?

Finally, a programming note: I’m going to take a couple of days off this weekend. You’ll get your Ten Day Planner on Sunday, but no Saturday Sounds and I’m taking Memorial Day to be with my family. I hope you’ll do the same. I’ll return Tuesday, but soon thereafter I will revert to my traditional summer schedule of somewhere around three posts per week (besides the planner). My staff needs a little down time to relax and travel around a bit.

Walnut Street Garage Takes Shape: What Do You Think?

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

It’s massive, it’s changed our skyline and it will hold many, many cars. Over a thousand of them. So far, there’s not much to disagree with. It’s all true. That’s where opinions diverge. I’ve made it clear before that I question whether we need so many parking garages and, more particularly, whether they all need to be in our precious, small, well-defined downtown. But it’s what commuters want – both shoppers and downtown workers.

The nine story (ten if you look at it from the western side) garage seems to be nearing the completion of its shell. There will be additional months of construction of details like elevators, lighting and so on, but it has clearly taken shape. The facade is built entirely of pre-fab concrete panels, some of which contain brick accents that mirror those on the Market Square Garage.

Parking Garage Construction, Knoxville, November 2014

Parking Garage Construction, Knoxville, November 2014

Parking Garage Construction, Knoxville, November 2014

Parking Garage Construction, Knoxville, November 2014

In addition to the sheer, stunning size of the garage, the south-facing side has drawn a large amount of the attention recently for its complete blankness – which isn’t allowed by downtown design guidelines. So, that was a large part of my focus as I spoke to the various people involved.

I spoke to Bill Lyons, Deputy to the Mayor, who said the following:  “I have followed the construction of the garage with great interest as I walk by it multiple times each day.  I did notice very early in the construction of the South wall that it was out of compliance with what Downtown Design had approved and I immediately started the process to let that the developer know this was unacceptable to the City and must be dealt with.   It will be addressed prior to the opening of the Garage.” He suggested that I speak to Anne Wallace, Project Director for the City of Knoxville and a member of the Downtown Design Review Board.

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

I spoke with Anne, as well as Lori Matthews who is also a member of the Downtown Design Review Board. Lori directed me to relevant links to the December 2013 DDRB Agenda, Minutes and the approved designs for the garage. Discussion in that December meeting centered on several concerns, particularly the amount and location of retail space which is called for in the guidelines. Anne told me that the Knoxville Fire Department dictated that the south facing wall had to be a solid wall with no openings due to the buildable lot next door – it’s a potential firewall should there ever be a building on that spot.

She, like Bill Lyons, said that the spirit of the guidelines would ultimately be honored with stain that mimics or reflects the design of the brick on the other side. The temperature has to be consistently above fifty degrees for that to happen, so it seems likely to be late spring or summer. She noted that the intent is to see more texture on a building and that extensive conversation had been held over the building and that wall.

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

So, if it has to be a flat-surfaced firewall because the lot next to it could contain a building, how likely is that to happen in the foreseeable future? I thought the chances were remote, but I kept hearing intimations to the contrary, so I contacted David Dewhirst, owner of the property, to ask if he had any intention of building there. He said, “I hope that one day that is not an asphalt parking lot, but I have no (current) plans to build there. I abhor surface parking lots. I’d love to see all of them become interactive spaces.”

He continued, “Additional parking for downtown is a good thing. I wish it had more retail . . . maybe it wasn’t feasible. I would love to see retail corridors on every street. Every building should be multi-use. Not requiring that is precluding retail. Eventually it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.” He said he wouldn’t mind seeing the downtown design guidelines be more forceful.

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Finally, I spoke to Joe Petre, developer and one of the team of developers involved with this project. He clarified that the included parking will be split between TVA, which will have about 700 dedicated spaces and the Langley Building which will have about 400. The shift from an entirely TVA project, as was originally proposed, added spaces to the project and also places the building on the tax rolls, which would not have been the case with a federal agency.

As for the impact on the Langley Building, for which his company Conversion Properties is the leasing agent, he said it is currently half full, which he says is very good as it was empty when Kimberly Clark moved out. He says the downtown office market is experiencing a turnaround and he expects the building will fill its entire 200,000 square feet this year. He says the clients want dedicated parking and he feels the garage project is working to bring them to the city.

As a person who’s been downtown for over twenty years, he understands that the garage could have been done differently given a different set of circumstances, but they had a specific amount of room to use and a budget that required choices be made. He points out the difficulties in making a project this size even happen, let alone succeed. It took a year-and-a-half to get started. The possibility of acquiring more space on the block and making an L-shaped garage with more retail was considered, but didn’t work out. He feels they got the best result possible given the constraints.

South-facing Wall, Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

South-facing Wall, Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

South-facing Wall, Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

South-facing Wall, Walnut Street Garage Construction, Knoxville, Winter 2015

Walnut Street Garage as seen from the Arnstein Bldg, January 2015

Walnut Street Garage as seen from the Arnstein Bldg, January 2015

View of the Locust Street Garage from the Pembroke, Knoxville, January 2015

View of the Walnut Street Garage from the Pembroke, Knoxville, January 2015

There will be a single retail space of about 1200 to 1300 sq. feet on the northern, Summer Place side. It will not be on the corner, but will be close to it and, he hopes, across the street from a branch of Clayton Bank planned for the southwest corner of the Langley Building, providing a couple of possible pedestrian draws to the spot. The other use will be a two-story storage unit on the south-side which will be available for tenants of the building as well as the public.

As for the blank firewall, he indicated that, in addition to the stain that will be applied later, the owner may be willing to consider other possibilities. Mr. Petre is the chair of the board for Legacy Parks and says there has been some discussion of the feasibility of a climbing wall. (See Greg Manter’s article about the possibility.) He mentioned draping plants from the top which might soften the side or perhaps a mural.

Langley Building, Knoxville, January 2015

Langley Building, Knoxville, January 2015

In short, no one particularly thinks this is the best urban design, but it was deemed the best we could do. At what point do we shift our thinking and raise our expectations? Is it reasonable to expect dedicated parking at our door? Are there other ways to deal with the fact that we are so automotive centered? What about no more surface parking or free-standing garages in the city from this point forward? There are other options like garages out of the center-city with shuttles running into downtown. Lori Matthews pointed out that in Japan you don’t notice garages because they are above the stores lining the streets. They can also be built beneath new structures.

Those solutions would be more expensive and/or less convenient. But we only have so much space and we only have one shot in our lifetime at getting this right. The Knoxville skyline has changed once in the last thirty years – and we did it with a very ordinary parking garage. We can’t afford to continue to accept less than excellent. If we constantly settle for good enough, that’s what we’ll have: Knoxville? Oh, it’s good enough. We deserve and can deliver better than that. What will our legacy be, office buildings and garages? It has to stop at some point. How about now?

I’d love to have your thoughts below. Please remember that on this site we have respectful, productive conversation. Disagree with me or anyone quoted in the article, but do so in a respectful, thoughtful and intelligent manner. Tomorrow I’ll have a look at a possible solution for the south-facing wall.

What is the Vision for the Jackson Corridor?

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

That was the question on the table(s) last night as about seventy-five people gathered at the city’s invitation to discuss the topic. Rick Emmett and Bill Lyons provided an introduction to the night’s activity-based program and gave instructions to those seated the various tables. The task, we were told, was to “inform the process” of requests for proposals for the former McClung Warehouses site, as well as a parcel across the street and the parking lot between the ruins and the Gay Street viaduct. We were told there would be a draft request put together, another meeting for more feedback and then the request would be issued.

In plain English, they wanted us to talk about what we’d like to see on that very important site. Why is it important? Because it is highly visible from the Interstate and because it is the connecting point between downtown, the World’s Fair Park and Old North. That means a lot is riding on getting this right.

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

The vision shared by each table varied from one another, as you might expect, but there were significant commonalities. Just about every table wanted some manner of connection from Walnut Street (beside Immaculate Conception Catholic Church) to Jackson Avenue. Some wanted a ramp, some steps, some a sky bridge and others suggested a building on that site might offer a walk-on roof from that direction from which a person might take an elevator down to Jackson. A similar connection from Jackson down to the train yard was also recommended.

A number of the groups pointed out that the greenway – currently proposed to go up Jackson, could easily be routed behind the buildings on the McClung site, making for a more level route for cyclists and walkers. Some mentioned the possibility of building over the train tracks. There seemed to be general agreement that parking would be needed but, I felt, there was a consensus that it should be on the lowest level of the buildings which, for most of the site, is below the grade of the road. No one wants to see a classic parking garage, AKA a big cement box for automobiles.

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

Public space seem to be desired by most people. One idea in that regard, was to have a space between the buildings and Jackson Street making a corridor or courtyard between it and the viaduct which would make it a continuation of the space between the current warehouse which runs adjacent to Jackson and the viaduct. That space is set to be redeveloped for a brewery and other businesses. This could extend that. One table suggested that might be a good site for a crafts village.

So, what kind of building did the participants envision? That varied quite a bit from those wanting to echo the now demolished warehouses to others wanting a striking, modern architectural skyline statement. Several talked about the possibility of bringing a corporate headquarters to the site. Scripps was mentioned. Some suggested a tall building on the western end of the property with smaller structures on the eastern end to more closely match the scale of the 100 block of Gay Street.

Environmental concerns were expressed regarding run-off into second creek. Requiring the buildings to be LEED certified was mentioned. Making the garages below the buildings central points for carpool parking or the entire area a node for responsible transportation into the city was mentioned.

All seemed to agree that some sort of Iconic architecture would need to be required.

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

Jackson Avenue Corridor Planning Session, Southern Railway Depot, Knoxville, April 2014

So, is all that practical or just a bunch of interesting, flighty ideas that you can’t realistically expect a developer to endorse? It will be interesting to see what threads of the night’s discussion are picked up by the city and which are not. And is there interest? It’s unclear, to me, that local developers can accomplish what was outlined at the meeting on the scale needed. Maybe they could each develop a parcel.

What we will likely need will be outside investment. If we get it, we need to guard against dropping our high goals for the property just to get somebody on site. To me, this seems the time to flex a bit of our rising-star muscle and not settle. We need to think big and throw the ball all the way down the field, to jumble my metaphors. We need to believe that Knoxville deserves and can realistically have an amazing building on this spot. And then we need to make it happen.

The city would like to hear your opinions and they’ve provided a forum just for that purpose. Take a few minutes and complete this survey.

I’ll close today by imploring you to get out and about downtown this weekend. Rhythm and Blooms will fill the Old City with music all weekend, the beautiful chalk walk will fill Market Square all day Saturday, Llamas will race on the World’s Fair Park, Art on the Block headlines First Friday. If you can’t find something fun out of all that, I think your funmaker is broken. Get out and make some fun. I’ll be the guy behind the camera.

McClung Warehouse Fire A Setback to Downtown Redevelopment

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Karen Kluge)

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Karen Kluge)

I drove home from Relix Theater about 1:00 AM Saturday morning. My path took me over the Broadway viaduct directly past the McClung Warehouses. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary, but when I walked into our home Urban Woman said she smelled smoke. I told her Relix is non-smoking, but she said it didn’t smell like cigarettes. I didn’t think any more about it and fell asleep.

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Karen Kluge)

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Karen Kluge)

Unknown to me, about 4:00 AM a neighbor, Karen Kluge smelled smoke, walked outside and took the two photographs you see here of the actual fire. The photographs are taken from Locust Street looking north between the (former) Kimberly Clark Building and Summit Towers. The visible flames rose above the large hill to the north of Summit Hill Drive.

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

I heard the news when I awakened around 7:30 and took the majority of the photographs you see here. Fire engines were stationed atop that hill over looking the building, all along Jackson Avenue in front of the building and behind the building across the railroad tracks.

Burned Out Care in front of McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Burned Out Care in front of McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

A passerby pointed out the car you can just make out in front of the building. Questions were later asked about the car. Was it involved, somehow? Did someone simply pick the worst parking space in the city the previous night? It was an odd place to park a car.

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

MCClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Melinda Grimac)

MCClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Melinda Grimac)

MCClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Melinda Grimac)

MCClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Melinda Grimac)

A hub of activity filled the parking lot of the former BP, and it included a KPD fire bus, which I’d never seen or considered before. Inside, the evacuated residents of the Southeastern Glass building enjoyed the heat, food and drink provided by the fire department. It made sense to have something like that, as I thought about it. You can see the edge of the Southeastern Glass building in a couple of the photographs here. It is uncomfortably close.

Corner BP Parking Lot, McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Corner BP Parking Lot, McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Given the nature of the fire and the heights at which some firemen worked, the dangers were clear. Fortunately, no one was injured in this fire, unlike the large fire which in 2007 reduced the three warehouses to, essentially, two. Firemen did not attempt to enter the building because of its known instability even prior to the fire. It’s unknown if anyone was inside the building when the fire began.

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

And that’s a line of questioning pursued at the 11:00 AM news conference convened at the fire station. An obvious assumption in situations like this is that homeless people must have started the fire inside the building in an effort to keep warm. City officials were asked about the securing of the buildings which they purchased in November. Bill Lyons pointed out that razor wire was placed around the perimeter of the building and solid metal doors were installed in doorways.

Press Conference, McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Press Conference, McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Press Conference, McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Press Conference, McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

So how could this happen? There’s no reason the building would ignite itself. There was no electricity connected to the building. Conspiracy theories immediately populated Facebook and a reporter pointed this out to the city officials who acknowledged that owners are the first suspect in a fire determined to be arson, which brought a laugh to those assembled. It was pointed out that Mayor Rogero, visiting Turkey at that time, had a perfect alibi.

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

Still, there are questions that linger. If the building was secured that well, how could anyone gain entrance? Was it intentionally set from the outside and, if so, who would do such a thing? There are also depressing questions like what if the warehouses had been sold ten years ago? Would we have three intact warehouses to redevelop?

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Melinda Grimac)

McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014 (Photo Courtesy of Melinda Grimac)

What if control could have been wrested away from the previous owner soon after the first fire, could the building have been redeveloped by now? We’ll never know the answers to the latter questions, but I hope we find the answers to the question of responsibility. Maybe it will be found that people were inside trying to keep warm.

The questioning in the press conference turned to the future and Bill Lyons indicated the previous plans will go forward. Those plans included feasibility studies to see if the buildings could be saved and a public comment process for the community to express their opinions and desires for redevelopment and then, hopefully, the city would transfer the property to a developer who would make good use of it.

The Day after the McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

The Day after the McClung Warehouse Fire, Knoxville, February 1, 2014

From my perspective, the likelihood that the building could be saved was pretty low before the fire and clearly whatever chance it had has been reduced. Prior to the first fire there were three very large buildings. Then we had two and, it appears to be me we now have one, at most.

I waked back to the site on Sunday and took some final pictures. Urban Girl went with me and said the smell hurt her nose, so we didn’t linger. Firemen were still keeping watch, but the intensity on the scene had been diminished. I missed the Philco Sign and the barely visible painting beneath it.

Western Side of the McClung Warehouses before the Second Fire

Western Side of the McClung Warehouses before the Second Fire

So, what will become of the site? No one knows, of course. I expect the building to be demolished and I fear the property will remain vacant. We haven’t been very aggressive about building new structures. If we do have something eventually built there, I wish the city would demand something special. It is too visible a spot to everyone driving through to have a bland, architecturally uninspiring structure built there.