Downtown Knoxville Business and Construction Update

Sign on Wall inside JC Penney Building, Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012

I discussed several businesses or construction projects last week including Cru Bistro, Scruffy City Hall and the Arby’s Building. One small update to that post: I suggested that each of these would have to decide whether to accept the grants and move forward or decline the grants and somehow change their plans. Obviously, the Cru Bistro project is nearing completion and the Scruffy City Hall project seems unlikely to not proceed, but, in the case of the Arby’s building, the award, while large, was substantially under the request and so the question remained. It appears it will, indeed, proceed and I hope to have updates on this blog as to the progress in the renovation of the building.

I also recently profiled the proposed changes to the State Street Garage. Changes should become noticeable there within the next couple of months.

Other construction projects are proceeding and changes continue to happen to downtown businesses and with this post I’ll update some of those stories. One of the great pleasures strolling the city streets in Knoxville involves measuring the change since the previous walk. Often in downtown Knoxville the change is significant on a daily basis.

J.C. Penney Building prior to Sidewalk Cover, Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012
J.C. Penney Building after Sidewalk Cover, Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012

The most high profile change has probably been the long awaited attention received by the J.C. Penney Building. One of the few remaining eye-sores on the 400 block of Gay Street, it has seen a urban-cool banner promising bright things fade to tatters followed by exposure of its roughed-up facade. A recent announcement indicated improvements may be afoot and immediately a sidewalk construction cover appeared. Rumors suggest a local company will use the bottom floor for retail and the second floor for office space. I haven’t heard if the upper floors will be finished as a part of the project.

Interior of JC Penney Building, Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012
Interior of JC Penney Building, Doorway into adjacent building, Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012

After looking inside, it appears to me that the small, narrow building beside it still retains its interior walls and isn’t just a facade as I had suspected. There is at least one doorway connecting the two, but it made me wonder if this building will be included in the re-development as one address or re-worked to return to its former independence. It’s a pretty cool easy-to-miss building of its own.

Small, Narrow Building Adjacent to J.C. Penney Building, Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012
Fencing and Facade Work at the Arnstein Building, Union and Market, Knoxville, August 2012

Renovations continue on the Arnstein Building. A large fence taking the entire sidewalk has been erected on the south and east sides of the building. I’ve heard conflicting rumors about Urban Outfitters, (see proposed plans here), so I’m not sure what will happen in that regard.

Taking Core Samples?, Summer Place and Locust, Knoxville, July 2012
Drilling at new Parking Lot Site, Knoxville, July 2012

A small crew recently bored into the site of the proposed parking garage between Walnut and Locust at Summer Place. I assume they checked to see what they might encounter as a foundation is laid. No crews arrived to fix the sidewalks or power lines I previously detailed.

Awning at 11 Cafe, 100 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2012
Julianne Applegate sells a bag, husband Toby in the background, 100 Block, Knoxville, August 2012

On the 100 Block I noticed an awning I’d not spotted before outside 11 Cafe. Sadly, on the same block, the announcement came last week that Julie Apple Design Studio (which I profiled here) will soon close at 121 S. Gay. As with many business closings, the reasons have nothing to do with the business: Her husband has accepted a position in another city. Juliane Applegate will be missed downtown, as will her husband Toby, known to many as a welcoming presence at Downtown Wine, but gainfully employed as a college professor. Julie Apple handbags will continue to be available online. The 100 block seems to struggle to maintain its momentum, though hopefully the construction at the corner of Gay and Jackson will drive further development once residents start pouring in (projected for this winter).

Lil’ Vinnie’s, Central Avenue, Old City, Knoxville, August 2012
Lil’ Vinnie’s, Central Avenue, Old City, Knoxville, August 2012
Lil’ Vinnie’s, Central Avenue, Old City, Knoxville, August 2012

Just down the hill from the 100 block, a new restaurant has opened at 119 S. Central Street. Lil’ Vinnie’s looks good through the window, though I haven’t tried it. Online reviews are mixed at best (here and here and here) with rumblings of a chef departure early and less-than-fresh foods served. Hopefully they will get it all worked out and have a long run at the address. I really enjoyed Pasta Trio back when it inhabited the address, so I’d love to see this one make it.

A final word is in order about the passing of an important figure downtown. Don Sproles died last after giving many years to downtown particularly via The Lunchbox, his restaurant which he and his wife started on Gay Street before moving about  a year ago to the current Market Street location. It was at that time that I met Don as part of my profile of the restaurant. He was as warm and congenial to me as I understand he was to everyone. I wish I could have known him longer. Cynthia Moxley has a great profile and story of the memorial service on her blog, Blue Streak. I’d encourage you to take a minute or two and read it.