It’s pretty easy to get discouraged by the demolitions, fires and less-than-inspiring designs for new construction that seem to be proliferating lately. Those of us who watch the scene with intense interest can sometimes miss the larger picture for the details. I know that McClung Warehouses – which once could have been an anchor in redevelopment on the north side of downtown – is currently being demolished. I’ll get to that soon, but there is also good news and we should relish it. This is a good time to love downtown Knoxville.
I noticed last week that someone from Henry and Wallace had subscribed to my blog. I’m always curious when I see a company that I don’t know, so I searched them out via Google and the building listed with the first entry immediately caught my attention: The Century Building. What did this company have to do with the Century Building?
A small wager says I’m not the only person who’s wandered past that empty address in recent years feeling a bit of sadness at such a magnificent building sitting empty. According to the Henry and Wallace site, the building was constructed in 1886, though I thought it was a few years later. Obviously, it would have been home to many businesses across the years. You’ll see in one of the photographs in this post evidence that it once held an inventory of paints. I found a reference to a 1986 rehab involving the first three floors. As long as I can remember, it sat empty.
So, I emailed Patrick King, Community Development Specialist for Henry and Wallace and asked him if, in fact, the company was working on the building. I told him I’d love a tour and a few emails and schedule changes later, we settled on last Saturday morning. When I arrived I found that he had invited Jenny Brown, Operations Manager to join us.
Henry and Wallace is a development company with a variable number of employees ranging from twenty to thirty, depending on projects underway at a given time. The company includes C-3 Studios, their architectural division, Century Building, LLC, their in-house construction company, Architectural Flooring, and a brokerage service. They hope to have a design group in the near future. Typically there are ten or twelve working out of their offices over Mast General Store at 402 South Gay Street. They have purchased the Century Building and will soon move their offices there.
In addition to the Century Building, they have numerous other projects underway spread across the region. The most notable local project besides the Century Building is the Standard Knitting Mills redevelopment. They also have projects – including new construction spread from Gatlinburg, Morristown and Chattanooga to the Nashville metro area.
The bottom or ground floor of the Century Building is divided. One side is unfinished and is for lease as a restaurant or for retail space. I expressed my opinion as to which is most needed downtown, but the market, obviously, will dictate what happens there. It’s a long, large space which would require just the right type of retail, but it is certainly possible. Parking is available to the east at the State Street Garage, to the West and the Market Square Garage and, of course, thousands of people are downtown in the day time and a couple thousand of us call downtown “home,” so hopefully that space will be snapped up, soon. Maybe by a cell phone/computer/hardware/pharmacy/men’s clothing store.
The other side of the ground floor will serve as a lobby for Henry and Wallace. There is also additional office space available for lease on the back side of this floor, which includes not only offices, but a small kitchen. This space appears ready for occupancy, but the company is awaiting clearance from the city.
The mezzanine and second floor will be occupied by Henry and Wallace. It’s a very cool space with massive floor to ceiling windows on either end of the building. The rear windows overlook one of the more interesting alleys in the city – between the Bacon and Company buildings. Jenny said she’d seen several photographers working that space. There are also many beautiful arched brick doorways connecting the two sides of the building.
The primary work space for the company is a large open space with no segmentation for offices. It was opened up by the owners revealing steel beams which had been obscured by a wall. Previously the front windows on that floor were only visible from inside the small offices on that end, but now they give light throughout the work space. It’s the kind of space most of us would love to enjoy every day.
The upper three floors will be developed into condos. The likely result will be four condos per floor for a total of twelve, which would run about 1100 to 1200 square feet on one side and about 1400 to 1500 square feet on the other side. They are flexible, however and would be willing to build larger – or perhaps smaller if the demand was there. This makes this project very different from other recent projects downtown, as the other residential developments recently completed or underway involve apartments. Could this be the beginning of a shift back to purchasing?
The owners of these condos will have amazing light and great views of the city. The front will, of course, overlook Gay Street. In either case, it’s a great location to live or work. An additional staircase will be constructed to pair with the one that appears to be original to the building. An elevator will also be required.
The time table on the building’s occupancy is dependent on a number of variables, but Henry and Wallace hopes to occupy their portion right away. The retail space will likely be ready to be built out to spec this spring. Jenny said the hope is to have the condos ready for sale later this year.
So, there’s some good news for this long Knoxville winter. A building that has languished for years is now welcoming a new generation of our citizens. That’s one building that won’t get torn down. There really are some good things happening. Maybe the next step will be filling in some of the gaps on the downtown streets – like the two on either side of this building. Anybody?