Long term readers of this blog know that I love it when old, unused and seemingly unwanted buildings find new life. I’ve learned a great deal about this sort of re-purposing over the years that I’ve written about downtown Knoxville. I’ve seen so many buildings I thought were worthless spring back to life. Of course we’ve lost many over the years, like the St. James Hotel and the Sprankle Building.
Other buildings have been reclaimed and returned to their former glory, such as the Holston and, more recently, Tailor Lofts and the Century Building. Still others never had much in the way of glory in the first place, with an emphasis on function. Some of these have actually been re-purposed and, in the process, have attained an attractiveness they didn’t necessarily have when they were originally built. The examples of an actual improvement on the original include the Southeastern Glass Building, the Jackson Avenue Workshops, the Armature and the White Lily buildings.
The subject of today’s article, a building at 923 North Central, is about as humble as any you might picture. Built, perhaps, in the 1970s, the current owner thinks it was originally a car audio store and perhaps was a transmission shop along the way. Subsequent years have not been kind and the building has deteriorated. When Dale Mackey and Shawn Poynter found it, it was in foreclosure and the price was right. They bought it and are currently embarking on a dream.
Many of you may know Dale and Shawn through other connections. Dale operates Dale’s Fried Pies. You’ll see her cart at the Market Square Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and Saturday, as well as other locations around town. She’s received all sorts of accolades for her fried concoctions, including inclusion in a recent Buzzfeed article proclaiming her Bacon Mac and Cheese Pie as one of the “25 Fried Foods You Have to Try Before You Die.” She was also recently featured in an article on Huffington Post. She also gives back to the community through her “Awesome Squad” and “Random Acts of Pie” efforts.
Shawn is best known for his excellent photography at Shawn Poynter Photography. If you look at photographs in and around the Knoxville area, you’ll see his. He also has a day job at the Center for Rural Strategies which is a non-profit organization seeking to “improve economic and social conditions for communities . . . through the creative and innovative use of media and communications.”
All of these pieces of their professional lives will come into play at their newly acquired location. Dubbed the “Central Collective,” the couple has big plans for the humble building. The lower floor will house both a photography studio for Shawn and a kitchen for Dale’s cooking and catering ventures. Each will have ample room to practice their art-of-choice and Shawn’s half of the downstairs will feature the ability to flood the space with natural light through the garage door, which will remain (though maybe a nicer one).
Upstairs will offer office space which will be leased initially to the Center for Rural Strategies. See how it all fits together. The top floor also has a great space for an outdoor deck overlooking the city. It’s the view from the edge of Happy Holler. They aren’t actually in Happy Holler, of course, they are on that island located somewhere between downtown, Old North and Happy Holler proper. It includes Magpies, Hops and Hollers and Holly’s Corner. Maybe we should call it “Happy Holler East Side.”
If you look at the rendering included here, I think you’ll agree the building will look better when it is finished than it likely ever looked in its lifetime. Good bones should yield a good final result. Help has been provided by the Community Design Center and via a facade grant from the Community Development Office for the city of Knoxville in the form of a forgivable loan if they make the improvements and stay in place for five years. The rendering shown here has already been modified as they moved the stairs from one end of the building to the other.
The couple also owns the parking lot and they are forming plans for its use, as well. They are imagining small concerts inside or outside the building as well as gatherings and events of all sorts. Dale is also in the later stages of having an actual Food Truck ready and you may find it parked there. They hope to make it a gathering place for the community and to have it operational and in business by the end of the year. I’ll attempt to follow-up with a story when the building comes into its own.
If you nose around the area, you’ll see some great development and some opportunity still waiting to be claimed – like the buildings directly across Central from their building (visible in the above photograph). It’s an area that seems to be changing daily. Here’s wishing Dale and Shawn great success in their new endeavor. And long live Happy Holler East Side.