A Look at the Plans for Marble Alley, Phase II

Marble Alley, Phase I and II

Marble Alley, Phase I and II

Construction is still underway for phase one of Marble Alley and even a casual glance reveals it’s rapidly moving toward being ready to accept residents. The most recent estimate for move-in date is mid-December and 174 of the 248  new units should be complete by the end of that month. An on-site leasing office will be in place sometime in November and, hopefully, a model unit or two will be available around the same time.

Completion target for the remainder of the apartments is March, 2016. Following that, the city will improve the streets and sidewalks around the project. I didn’t realize until I looked at the renderings that the sidewalks will be improved on both sides of State Street and that they will include the inlaid bricks like those found on Gay Street. The ground level residences in Phase will have step-ups similar to row homes in other cities.

Another Rendering

Of course, last August I wrote in great detail about phase one and the most common question I got about that was: “When is phase two going to start?” Along with that comes a lot of curiosity about what that second phase will include. These are pretty heady times for our downtown when the largest residential project in downtown’s history, and the first project to turn a (massive) parking lot into a building isn’t even complete before people want to know what’s next.

Where phase one included 200,000 square feet of residential space and a parking garage, plans for phase two include 45,000 square feet of retail, 45,000 square feet of office space and 125,000 square feet of residential. It’s important at this point to understand that these are simply plans. Numerous approvals have to be obtained, agreements made, financing obtained and more. The plans could change depending on many variables including a shift in the economy, for example.

Looking Down Union Avenue Now

Looking Down Union Avenue Now

Same View Down Union Avenue After Phase II

Same View Down Union Avenue After Phase II

Buzz Goss will be the developer of the second phase, as he was of the first, and he’s quick to point out that he’s building a district, not a set of buildings. Just as we’ve talked about Depot Avenue becoming (if all the proposed developments become reality) a hub of the city, Buzz would envision this area being the same. And he’s not just imagining a building on the remaining space in the former city-block of pavement.

He’s also thinking the corner of Union and State (you have to love the intersections in this city – the State of the Union, the intersection of Church and State, Gay/Union) should be a visibly attractive and vibrant node to pull pedestrians down from Gay Street. In order to accomplish that he needs more than just one corner engaged with pedestrians. He’d like to see a small park or plaza on the northwest corner of the intersection. He imagines the site being dedicated to Cal Johnson (whose building is falling down within sight of this spot. And he’d like it to visually reference some of the elements from Cal Johnson Park to which Mr. Johnson donated a fountain and the arched entrance you see in the photograph.

View toward Gay Street Now

View toward Gay Street Now

View Toward Gay Street after Phase II, Including Cal Johnson Plaza

View Toward Gay Street after Phase II, Including Cal Johnson Plaza

Cal Johnson with the arch he donated to the original Cal Johnson Park

Cal Johnson with the arch he donated to the original Cal Johnson Park

The park would include not only a fountain, but vertical gardens or trees to obscure the Promenade Garage. The park would be visible from Gay Street just up the hill and would allow the sight-line to continue to the second phase building of the project which, hopefully, will mean retail within sight of Gay Street.

The southeast corner of the intersection already has the State Street Garage. He’d like to see a small, shallow retail space constructed on the west side of the garage at that intersection. This would make three of the four corners active and would complete the picture looking down the hill from Gay Street.

Looking South Along State Street in Front of Marble Alley Phase II

Looking South Along State Street in Front of Marble Alley Phase II

The final part of the vision for this phase involves parking. Whereas a new garage was built for phase one – and I would add artfully built as it sits in the internal portion of the block and will not be visible from the street – this phase does not call for a new parking garage. So where will the new residents of the approximately 147 units park?

Mr. Goss would like to build two additional levels of parking atop the State Street Garage. When it was expanded a couple of years ago, the infrastructure was laid for additional floors. Mr. Goss would like to build a pedestrian sky-way spanning Union and connected the new building with the parking garage. It would be a similar construction to the one built crossing State from the garage to Gay Street.

Phase I and Phase II of Marble Alley

Phase I and Phase II of Marble Alley

If all the approvals, financing and other hurdles are cleared, he’d like to begin construction late in 2016. Whereas phase one of the project will take about eighteen months to complete, he feels the second phase could be completed in about twelve months. If the residential component becomes reality, Mr. Goss says that Marble Alley would have more dense residential development than the 100 block, shifting the center of downtown’s population. That’s quite an impact.

Of course, one of the big hurdles is financing to make the retail portion of this project happen. It’s critical and he’s hopeful. He’d like to see services as well as traditional retail. As you can see in the rendering, restaurants and traditional retail are also included. And then there is Phase III. But that’s a long way down the line and a topic for sometime next year.

A Look at Marble Alley: Today and in the Near Future

Marble_Slider_2

Rendering of Marble Alley Lofts

Marble Alley has been a topic of discussion in concept since I started this website. It was a point of some contention in the design phase and it underwent changes throughout the last five years. The ground-breaking took place over a year ago. For some time after that the efforts on the site seemed to produce not much more than shifting piles of dirt. Then it started rising and taking shape and has, even before it opens become a presence downtown.

Exterior of Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

Exterior of Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

Exterior of Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

Exterior of Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

View of Marble Alley Construction from Gay Street, Knoxville, August 2015

View of Marble Alley Construction from Gay Street, Knoxville, August 2015

As Buzz Goss gave me a tour last week he  mentioned the he has been surprised at just how visible and how much of a presence the structure has become. I’d noticed it already and it surprised me, as well. Sometimes the geographic relationships of downtown aren’t obvious until you see them from a new perspective or with a new point of reference. Marble Alley is providing a new point of reference. For example, I’d never realized we’d be able to see it from the Old City, but it’s visible from many spots along Jackson and out Central.

Lobby Construction, Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

Lobby Construction, Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

 

Exterior of Marble Alley Construction, Knoxville, July 2015

Construction of Game Room and Fitness Center, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Rendering of Game Room, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Game Room, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Fitness Room, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Fitness Room, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

The most notable point from which it is visible also highlights one of the contributions the project will make. Looking from Gay Street through the gap created by the fire and subsequent demolition in 1974 of the Terminal Building, the view before Marble alley was an ocean of asphalt, backed by the James White Parkway. Downtown seemed to “end” just behind Gay Street. Now visitors to the city can look through the gap and see there is more “there”there. I think it’s an important contribution to the texture of the city.

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

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View from Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

The relationship between the Old City and downtown proper has been a point of the construction from the beginning. The two seem quite separated to many people, largely because of the fairly steep hill between the two. The new residential development makes clear that the two are really quite connected – and more so now than before. It’s about a block to either the Old City or to Gay Street from the building, a fact that will no doubt attract many residents.

Balcony Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Balcony Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

Interior Construction of Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, July 2015

The building will feature amenities either not currently found downtown or at least very usual for downtown. It starts with an internal parking garage (370 spaces) offering, in many cases, very direct access to the units. A pool will be included in the internal courtyard as will an outdoor grilling area available to residents. An inviting lobby at the main entrance – which is on State Street – will open into a workout room and will overlook a game room for residents.

Rendering of Apartment, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Apartment, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Apartment, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Apartment, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Each of the units will have granite counter-tops and hardwood floors. Most will have a balcony and the choices of views range from a view toward Gay Street, toward the mountains, the Old City or, for those who prefer, a view of the courtyard. I noted a number of downtown iconic structures visible from one perspective or another including the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, First Presbyterian Church, Patrick Sullivan’s, Knoxville High School, the Sterchi Building and more.

Dobber, 500 Square Feet

Dobber, 500 Square Feet

Marley 670 Sq Ft $1210 - $1279

Marley 670 Sq Ft $1210 – $1279

Jasper 952 Sq Ft $1554-$1684

Jasper 952 Sq Ft $1554-$1684

Aggie 1157 Sq Ft $1759

Aggie 1157 Sq Ft $1759

Bennington, 1187 Sq Ft

Bennington, 1187 Sq Ft

Prices vary widely depending on location of the apartment (generally the higher, the more expensive) and the size. The two-hundred-forty-eight units will include both one and two bedrooms and the square footage will range from 500 square feet up to nearly 1200 square feet. Prices range from right around $1000 dollars a month to $1759 per month.

Courtyard Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Courtyard Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Courtyard Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Courtyard Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Courtyard Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Courtyard Construction, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Pre-leasing has begun and close to 15% of the units are taken even without a completed unit to show potential residents. I’ve felt, as have others I’ve spoken to, that this development will be a test of the downtown market. Right now, leasing a downtown apartment is a highly competitive affair, with very few units available. The addition of 248 units to the market at one time is something we’ve not seen, perhaps in downtown’s entire history. If and how quickly they fill will, no doubt, have an impact on development going forward. Early indications are that filling them will not be difficult.

Rendering of Grilling Area, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of Grilling Area, Marble Alley, Knoxville, August 2015

Rendering of the Completed Court Yard, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

Rendering of the Completed Court Yard, Marble Alley, Knoxville, July 2015

First residents will likely move in three months from now, with move-in dates phased in afterwards. For example, the move-in date for someone leasing today would be December and the date will continue rolling based on progress in the development. All amenities, however, will be available in November. Interestingly, that means the pool, which will be maintained (though not heated) year-round.

The other impact I’m curious to experience is that of the increase in residents downtown. It’s hard to say what percentage increase this will represent, because the current population estimates are surprisingly wide-ranging. Just for the sake of the discussion, one source (city-data.com) estimated the population of the 37902 zip code to be 1,810 in 2013. I would say we’ve easily reached 2,000, if you consider what’s been added in the last couple of years.

Assuming that’s accurate and, assuming that about 100 of the new apartments include two residents, meaning a total of around 350 additional residents, that would produce a 17.5% increase in residential population over a two month or so period. This doesn’t even take into account the 20 units coming soon to the JC Penney Bldg or the 70 coming soon to the former John H. Daniel Bldg. That percentage of increase, I believe, will result in a noticeable difference on the sidewalks, in the restaurants and in the retail shops. It will likely also attract more retail options to the city.

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of downtown living at Marble Alley Lofts, you can contact them via the webpage, or you may call Tracey at 865-230-1860.

Major Downtown Project Updates (Plus Bonuses)

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

I’ve mentioned them before, but progress is being made on the first two projects to convert parking spaces to buildings (in one case a former building along with the surface parking). One is a bit more exciting and the other is more functional, but both are significant as we move along.

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

For the first couple of months, the Marble Alley Lofts site looked like mountains of dirt being pushed from one side of the site to the other. The site, most of you know, is bounded by South Central, Commerce and State. It does not take the entire parking lot, but it does remove a large portion of it. Prior to construction, it was an entire city block of surface parking, with one small exception: a sub-station occupies one corner.

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

It appears the mountains of earth are taking shape and concrete is starting to stake a claim to small portions of the property. As you can see from the photographs, one section even looks like it has plumbing. Certainly, it is poised to quickly begin taking shape as much of the initial work seems to be completed. Projected completion date for the 238 apartments (the site also uses the number “283.” Ground broke in July and completion is likely for early 2016.

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

Marble Alley Construction on Commerce, Central and State, Knoxville, October 2014

It’s worth noting that the streets in this part of the city are a mess. Central is closed from Summit Hill to Union and State is similarly closed. They should be open, soon, and will be improved when they do open, as enhancements have been made in anticipation of greater traffic in this area.

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

The parking garage being built between Walnut and Locust at Summer Place is less sexy than two to three hundred new homes, but it has been deemed essential, as well. Like the Marble Alley site, the first months were given to shifting dirt and seemingly trying to coat the western edge of downtown in a thick layer of same. The noise has been deafening at times, as well. It has sometimes been audible on Market Square, so it’s easy to imagine what it must be like for the residents in that side of the Daylight Building.

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

The massive amounts of drilling and pounding structures into the earth have given way to less dirty and noisy activities as cement work has commenced and pre-cast walls and floors are being assembled on-site. A small portion of the facade is visible on the eastern side facing the Market Square Garage and it pretty well looks like a mirror image of the garage portion of that building, though, of course, it will have no residential component and very little retail space.

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Parking Garage construction, Locust and Walnut at Summer Place, Knoxville, October 2014

Old KUB Building Construction, Knoxville, October 2014

Old KUB Building Construction, Knoxville, October 2014

A few additional notes are worth making. Both the former KUB Building at the corner of Church and Gay and the JC Penney Building seem to have escalated their renovation pace. Floors are visible through the windows of the JC Penney Building where there used to be only an empty shell. The KUB Building now has a solid wooden front blocking any view of the lower facade. It actually includes two buildings that were merged during the KUB era and now may well be separated as they were originally.

Farragut Hotel, 530 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Farragut Hotel, 530 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2014

Also on Gay Street, Josh Flory reported that the Farragut Hotel Building has officially been sold, though not to the developers from California. The person making the purchase is Rick Dover of the Family Pride Corporation. They’ve renovated Oakwood School as a retirement home and they will be renovating Knoxville High School, as well. The indication from Mr. Dover is that the building will likely have multiple uses from retail to condos to senior housing and perhaps a portion of it could be a hotel. Jack Neely has a thoughtful follow-up in this week’s Metro Pulse looking at uses and the potential benefits to having some actual old people around the city. It’s an idea I tend to support for personal reasons.

Finally, there’s another of those “Ain’t Knoxville Great?!?” articles circulating. It’s in the Memphis Daily News and touts downtown Knoxville as a tourist destination. We sound like a place I’d like to visit. Maybe I’ll do just that.

A Conversation with Buzz Goss and Jeffrey Nash About Marble Alley and Downtown Knoxville

Rendering of the Proposed Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, March 2013

Rendering of the Proposed Marble Alley Lofts, Knoxville, March 2013

I sent an e-mail to Buzz Goss asking for an interview to which he readily agreed and we sat down together at Sapphire. I found him to be open, direct and passionate. Later in our conversation we were joined by Jeffrey Nash, owner of Crown and Goose, who was invited by Mr. Goss, who noted of Mr. Nash, how much he had learned from “listening to this man talk.” And talk, we did. It was an interesting hour and a half.

The Marble Alley Project was originally proposed by Mr. Goss in 2009 and included ten buildings starting at the opening just north of Mast General Store and moving east and a bit north, bending toward the Old City and connecting the two. The project involved, “at least 150,000 square feet of retail space; 100,000 square feet or more of commercial and office space; and 200,000 or more square feet of residential space.”

Immediately, a  number of people said it would never happen. The economy hit its low point that very same spring and such an ambitious project seemed to many to be fanciful at the least. In the four years that have passed, Marble Alley has been mentioned rarely, though there was a bit of a false start in 2011. The massive parking lot behind Mast General Store and bordering Commerce, Central, Union and State street has been noted for accepting some overflow from the State Street Garage and not much more.

I wondered how it felt to be hit with disbelief in an ambitious undertaking such as Marble Alley. Mr. Goss indicated it was of no concern to him that people thought the project would not happen. If they questioned his character, he said that would bother him, but if they thought him a bit deluded, he didn’t care. Instead of worrying about his critics, he’s quietly spent the last four years working with investors to raise, not just capital, but faith in Knoxville. Investors in cities in the north and Atlanta know the Nashville story, but not so much the quieter Knoxville story.

“Nashville,” he said, “Differs from Knoxville,” in some respects simply because of luck. Whereas our remaining older buildings have been conducive to building out condos, theirs were not. This forced them to turn to new construction. When the downturn hit, one of the major projects underway in Nashville, with 250 units, went bankrupt with only about forty units sold. The other 210 just happened to be the right size for rentals, they were bought, immediately rented and a population boom began in that city. We didn’t have the capacity to immediately fill the demand for rentals in Knoxville, so we fell a bit behind.

Jeffrey Nash and Buzz Goss, Knoxville, March 2013

Jeffrey Nash and Buzz Goss, Knoxville, March 2013

One question that he addressed was the extent of the likely demand for downtown housing. Apparently, a generally accepted current rule-of-thumb is that three percent of an area’s population is interested in an urban environment. In Knox County, with a population of about 350,000, that would yield over 10,000 potential residents for downtown, roughly five times the current number. He noted, “Even taking a conservative number such as one percent, the demand would nearly double the size of downtown.”

So, after all these years, what brings this up, now? An announcement last Friday brought the news that a major development is planned for the massive paved lot behind Mast General Store and across from the State Street Garage. It will be called Marble Alley Lofts and is slated to include 238 apartments, a 350 car garage and a pool. The layout of the project indicates that the substation located there will remain as will the empty corner of Union and State.

The time-table calls for construction to begin later in 2013 and completion of the project in 2015. HUD financing is involved and this appears to be a critical component. It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with low-income or subsidized housing that some people think of when they hear “HUD.” In this case, the federal agency simply removes some of the risk from the banks involved, which makes them more likely to loan money to the project.

When I asked how certain he is that this will actually happen, he said, “ninety-five percent.” He mentioned the HUD portion of the financing as an example of what could produce the five percent outcome. Still, he seems convinced that this is going to become reality and is already at work to secure the next stage of the project.

And what is that next stage? Remember the empty corner of State and Union mentioned above? It is set to become a retail structure of some sort. Mr. Goss did not want to be specific on this point as he is still working with potential backers, but he seems to believe that this corner of the block could be configured to yield as much as 200,000 square feet of retail space, or “roughly the equivalent of all the first floor spaces on Market Square.”

State Street Parking Lot, Knoxville, May 2011

State Street Parking Lot, Knoxville, May 2011

I pressed the question of the isolation of this retail patch from all the others and he indicated that with the massive amount of space, it becomes its own retail district. Additionally, he pointed to the foot traffic from all of the new residents as they walk toward the rest of the downtown area, as well as the foot traffic from the State Street Garage. Just to be able to say to an investor that this new retail space will be on the same street as and a couple of blocks from Urban Outfitters, he feels will make investment much more likely.

So, what’s next? That’s where Mr. Nash, who is unabashedly positive about Knoxville weighed in. Given the increased density of population this project along with others such as the Medical Arts and White Lily Buildings will engender, he feels there will be two trends. First, a surge in necessary businesses for daily life, such as a pharmacy, hardware store, cellular phone store and others. He points out that if a person needs a light bulb downtown, they need a little luck at Jay’s Megamart. If an out of town guest forgot to pack some essentials, they are unable to make small purchases as one might make at a pharmacy.

Second, he feels transportation will scurry to catch up with the new population and their needs to move about the larger city, making public transportation more likely to become a viable option in Knoxville. Neither man regarded the boundaries of downtown as set by the Interstate, James White Parkway, Henley Street and the river as being problematic. In fact, they see it as a modest asset in the sense that it defines the downtown neighborhood. London and Paris have major divisions, as well, but each functions as a distinct, though interconnected, unit. They feel downtown Knoxville will evolve in the same way.

Finally, an anecdote from London that may well someday apply to the United States and, eventually, Knoxville. We talked about the fact that Americans expect to be able to park their cars in front of the door to whatever destination they have in mind. The damage this has done to our city is obvious in the valuable wasted space due to the proximity of the Interstate to the center city and the massive parking lots downtown which once featured thriving buildings.

Mr. Nash noted that in London fifty years ago the standard was that any parcel of land set for development had to be apportioned one third for retail or residential and two thirds of the parcel had to be set aside for parking. The current standard for development in London, just enacted in the last fifteen years or so is that the entire parcel must be developed with nothing allotted for automobiles, the idea being that the space is too precious and public transportation should be used to arrive at the destination.

After an hour and a half, my head was spinning from the wealth of urban planning and development knowledge the two men are able to marshal. There may be a question of whether some plan or another hatched by them may reach fruition. There can be no question that they believe Knoxville has a very bright future and they are excited to be a part of it.