Getting Business Done Downtown: The Downtown Design Review Board

Downtown Design Review Board, City County Building, Knoxville

Those of you who read this blog regularly will remember that I planned to attend the November meeting of the Downtown Design Review Board. The issue that generated the blog was the proposed demolition of buildings at 710 and 712 Walnut. I attended the meeting and since it was widely reported that the demolition had been deferred. It was on the agenda for the next meeting (December) and I believe it was postponed, once more.

While you can read the detailed minutes of the November meeting to see the kinds of issues the board discusses and wields power over, I thought it might be interesting to highlight one item on their agenda that day and show you the results. The Downtown Design Review Board is technically not a government entity, but the ten members are appointed by the mayor and their role is to advise the mayor and city council. Additionally, most anyone wanting to make alterations to buildings in the downtown area are required to have their approval.

Home Federal Building, Old Surface, December 2011

At the November meeting, in addition to the demolition item on the agenda, was a request from Creative Structures Inc. to complete work on the exterior of the Home Federal Building at 406 Union Avenue. This is the building that looked, to me, as if a giant heatwave had passed through the city and melted a disgusting substance down its western side. In fact, that was a seal (gunite) applied to that side of the building when the building beside it was torn down. The remaining bricks were not external bricks and so had to be covered.

Attempted removal of surface of the western side of Home Federal

The proposal was to remove the gunite and replace it with stucco. The specific language in the proposal regarding the gunite was “all gunite on the exterior of the building will be removed . . . ” There was discussion of faux brick which was quickly killed. There was also discussion of what type of stucco would be used and assurances were given that it would be cementitious.

Gumite coverd with braces, then insulation

Since I often walk by this building and heard the discussion at the meeting, it was interesting to see work begin immediately. It seemed obvious to me, and I presume to the workers, that the gumite was not going to go easy. In fact, it wasn’t going. As best I can tell, the decision was made to cover it. First a layer of insulation was added, then metal braces and finally the stucco. I wouldn’t know cementitious from faux cementitious, so I can address that part.

Finishing the new surface, Home Federal Building

So, the building looks much better and they probably did the best thing they could have done in the circumstance. That said, I don’t think they followed the proposal the presented to the board. Since the gumite couldn’t be removed, the surface protrudes further than they said it would.There was a natural lip at the bottom of the effected area and the new surface was to be even with that, but that wasn’t adequate with the gumite still in place.

Unless I’m wrong, and I’m certainly open to someone leaving a comment explaining how I misunderstood what was proposed or what was ultimately done, they presented one thing, got approval, and did something different.The board donates their time and doesn’t have enforcement responsibility as far as I know, which makes me wonder who follows up to make sure the work is really done as it is supposed to be done?

The board meets again today with a whole new set of issues, and one aging one – the demolition of 710 and 712 Walnut. They meet in the Small Assembly Room in the City and County Building at 4:00 PM. You can view their entire schedule for the year here.