A community meeting was held last night at Flenniken Landing in south Knoxville to discuss the plans, which include revisions, for the Baptist Hospital Site. Representatives of Blanchard Calhoun, including president Mark Senn and Davis Architects presented the plans and delineated the zoning variances they are requesting. A public comment period will continue for another three weeks before a final decision is made to proceed with the plans. About seventy people attended the meeting, which included at least twenty city officials and others involved in the project, along with reporters, leaving about forty or fewer interested citizens.
The plans, as they stand now, include continuing use of the building at the south end of the Gay Street Bridge as office space, but stripping its exterior and giving it a new “skin.” Balconies would be included in the redo, giving the building a more interesting texture. “Glazing,” which to ordinary people is the addition of glass, would be increased dramatically in the portion facing the street, removing a blank wall from the streetscape and the rear of the building, which has a glass atrium with a high ceiling will be marketed as a restaurant.
The restaurant would face the “riverwalk,” which is an elevated natural walkway just behind all the proposed structures. It has been moved from the riverside, with the thought that it was too difficult to access down the bluff. Joe Hultquist later, from the audience, pointed out that while this “esplanade” was nice and does connect with the river walk on the other side of the Henley Bridge (by an elevator, if I understood correctly), it shouldn’t be called a riverwalk because it isn’t at the same level as the other portion and an actual riverwalk will have to be built by the riverside at some point so people can bike and walk for a distance without such a change in elevation.
The central portion of the site will be 315 residences, which will be apartments, not condos. A small portion at the corner of Blount and Chapman Highway will possibly be retail. A concession the builders have made since the last meeting is that the variance they were requesting for a smaller percentage of “glazing,” has been withdrawn and they are now in compliance with the codes at a minimum of 70% glass frontage along the street. They have also made a number of the units taller on the ground floor to allow for a possibility of a shift to retail should the market dictate that change at a later time.
The structure, which will be five stories facing Blount and six stories on the back, will also include an internal parking garage which will not be visible from the street. It will include enough spaces for the majority of residents, with others parking across the street in the currently existing garage. Much of that garage will continue to be available for public parking. A tunnel and pedestrian overpass will be retained. Approximately one acre of space between the bridge and the new structure will be reserved for a park and event space overlooking the river. A pocket park will also be included along the backside of the apartments which will be open to the public.
The project also includes the southeast corner of Blount and Chapman and that corner will be developed as retail. Across Chapman, on the north side of Blount and adjacent to the bridge and river will be student housing. The portion of the student housing facing the intersection may be reserved for retail. The two portions actually include five buildings – three for student housing west of Chapman and two separate buildings for residences east of Chapman.
In the end, the project fits with the sector plans developed by the city. The sector is designated mixed-use, but that doesn’t mean that each structure has to be mixed use, though that is allowed. This portion is SW6 and is the Gateway to the City. The intention, according to Alan James of Davis Architects is to have mass and density, which he says this proposal provides.
They are requesting three variances, even though they took care of the glazing issue and dropped that request. One involves how the plot is technically divided. It’s doubtful to raise any public concerns. They have requested a variance in distance from the road (Blount). The idea here is that they don’t want a straight wall to run that far along the street, wanting instead to vary the face of the building which, as proposed will have small porches, similar to brownstones with room for planters. The final variance is for the percentage of required pervious surfaces. This requirement assumes parking lots and this project doesn’t include any.
Of the street, they said traffic counts are being examined, though as one person pointed out with the mess of a detour due to the demolition, not many people are currently using it. The traffic counts will be used to determine the ultimate width of the road, which is slated to include parallel parking and a median. They made it clear the intention is to have an active and walkable street.
The company has built similar projects and this one is typical of the others in that it includes a connection to a river or other natural attraction. They built hundreds of units on Savannah’s waterfront and are doing the same in Augusta. Their market research indicates that market rates are high enough for rentals to make the internal garage practical, which seems to have been critical to their willingness to pursue it.
At the same time, they said the market would not support the hotel originally planned for the remaining office building. The indication was they really wanted to include that portion but simply could not financially make it work. They also indicated, in response to an audience question, that retail along the river would not be considered because it did not seem viable at this time.
A timeline was discussed, but it was vague. The intention is to have demolition finished in December – but it was originally June. Once that is complete the construction will start on the multi-family residences and work will begin on the office space. This phase is slated to take about a year. The student housing would follow that and would take about the same amount of time. He said for purposes of timing the student market, they would seek to finish those in July of 2016 if possible or 2017.
Comments are allowed through December 5 and may be addressed to Dawn Michelle Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions, you are directed to call 1-865-215-2607.