As had been previously reported, Royal Properties proceeded with their request for permission to demolish the Pryor Brown Garage in order to have surface parking in its place. The issue was raised before the Downtown Design Review Board at their Wednesday meeting. Lewis Howard, attorney for the company said the building is unsafe and must be torn down. The cost of renovation would be prohibitive, he said, and the building has simply “died of old age.”
Kim Trent of Knox Heritage countered saying that the building is eligible for historic tax credits and other sources of funding which might be used to preserve it. Board member Chad Boetger, who is also a member of the Central Business Improvement District’s Board pointed out that while CBID rejected the request from the company for a large grant, which is reserved for catalyst projects, that body would be willing to listen to a more appropriate request for funding.
It was striking how different a tone the representatives for Royal Properties struck in this meeting as opposed to the CBID meeting in which they requested $300,000. In the first meeting they extolled at some length the great virtues of the building. They claimed it to be over one hundred years old and that it was originally used to house carriages. They indicated they had a tenant interested in the available commercial space. Just three months later it is a hazard and must be destroyed in favor of surface parking.
The meeting felt very similar to the meeting earlier this week as the Metropolitan Planning Commission heard the appeal by St. John’s to tear down 710 and 712 Walnut Street. In each case, the property owners insist on their rights to destroy what is a piece of the common heritage of the city. In each case the replacement will be pavement and the owners seem to feel little responsibility to the community and display little interest in alternative solution. Also in both cases, the structures about which the owners bemoan their horrible condition, are in that condition because of neglect of maintenance by the current owners. This is particularly the case with Crown Properties which has held the garage since the mid-nineties.
The other, unfortunate, reality connecting these two issues and these two meetings is the fact that legally, the owners have the right to destroy the buildings. We can only plead to their grace and mercy and ask them to honor the resurgence that has begun in downtown Knoxville. Clearly we need new ordinances to protect downtown. A regulation restricting any additional surface parking lots would be a start.
The best the committee could do was delay the inevitable: they postponed the issue until the MPC approves the usage requested. In the interim, I’d encourage you to support Knox Heritage in their efforts to preserve our past. Also, as I’ve said several times, please join over 400 people who have gone before you and sign the petition to stop the demolition of 710 and 712 Walnut. Join the protest to be held this Sunday at St. Johns. We may not win these battles, but if we fail to try, we will fail without question.