I’ve probably not been given the opportunity to follow any building more closely than that afforded to me by Daniel Odle of Conversion Properties at Tailor Lofts. When I first toured the building, I couldn’t keep from calling it the “Arby’s Building” because of the business that had operated there for so long. That seems like a long time ago now, even though it has been only eighteen months. It seems pretty easy to say, “Tailor Lofts,” now.
To best appreciate the photographs you are about to see, you really should go back and look at the photographs of the condition of this building before the work started. Start with the first blog post when the renovations were just plans and you will see the conditions as they existed in January 2013. The family who own the building could easily have said it was too expensive to renovate, the repairs too overwhelming. We could have had another gap on Gay Street.
Move next to the post from January of this year. Clearly much had happened. The photographs give a good idea of the work that was done to convert the mess pictured a year earlier into something that might one day become a livable, usable space. But there was still a long way to go. Little things like the hole in the center of the roof and much more suggested, at least to my eyes, that the building still wasn’t in the home stretch. But it was.
Daniel graciously agreed to give me a final look at some of the finished spaces. The units are all complete – and they are all leased. When he posted the “For Lease” sign in the windows of the building and placed a single ad on Craig’s List earlier this year, his phone melted down. Almost immediately the units were taken. It’s just another indication of what we already knew: there is currently far more demand for apartments in downtown Knoxville than the supply can meet. Similarly, the Medical Arts Building filled almost immediately. There was one available unit, last I heard.
We started on the first floor, which is below grade on Gay Street, but not so as you move down the side along Union Avenue. It contains a unit that I thought would be really attractive when finished and, fortunately for me, it is not yet occupied, though it is leased. The center unit presented a problem: A hallway needed to extend along the side of the building to reach the front apartment.
This left the center apartment on that floor with no access to external light. The solution, which I think was ingenious, was to install a double set of windows on each side of the hallway provided the directly light into the unit, albeit through two windows. I learned on this tour that the architect with the cool design idea was Brian Pittman with McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects, who many of you may know through his cathedrals or his excellent restoration of the Mary Boyce Temple House. As you can see, his idea works brilliantly.
After looking at that unit, we went upstairs to another that hasn’t been occupied just yet and it was just as lovely and more spacious than the first. As you can see, it is a single-room efficiency with loft storage. It was clear from my first visit to the building that the windows would be a major attraction to living there and that is no less obvious now that they have been completed. Some have the massive pane windows on the front and overlook Gay Street, but the windows you see pictured here are massive, as well. The back windows will offer great views of Marble Alley as it springs to life.
As you can see from the photographs of the ground level – and you may have had a chance to see it yourself as you’ve passed by, now that the corridor has been removed – some distance has yet to be covered before that space is ready to house Five Bar restaurant. Originally hoping for a July opening, August or September now appears more likely. Plans include bringing a rotating cast of chefs in to introduce their specialties as new items are added to the menu, so it sounds like a restaurant which will strive to do things right when they do open.
So, what could have been an empty shell for years or worse, an empty space where a building once stood, is now home to several people and/or families and will soon house a new restaurant that will make downtown more appealing. Taxes are generated for generations to come and the streetscape on Gay looks a little more polished and complete. Even if the soul of the city and its old buildings holds no appeal at all for you, those practical improvements are worth the journey to revitalize our older building stock. And personally, I like the soul of the city.