For many years we’ve only seen one-way traffic downtown and I’m not talking about the streets. We’ve torn down many buildings over the last decades and produced surface parking lots. We’ve not gone in the other direction until recently. Some of the new construction in the city actually is coming off demolitions, like the Baptist Hospital Site and the Liberty Building site (forgotten what that was, already?). Others, however, are coming on honest-to-goodness surface lots.
The largest example, of course, is Marble Alley which, though the lack of retail has been seen as a negative by some observers, it is taking a city-block of surface parking and converting most of it to new residences. With nearly 250 apartments becoming more of a reality everyday, they will likely be filled with somewhere between 350 and 500 new downtown citizens. While “Phase II” has not begun construction, it is slated to be retail and office space.
Some feel it can be a game changer for other development and I may have the first evidence that it’s true. Kevin and Melinda Grimac purchased a 7500 square foot parking lot owned by the Sentell family at 107 Commerce Street, across from Marble Alley. The $187,000 investment was fueled directly by the Marble Alley development. Kevin Grimac told me, “We were not looking to buy this property, but an opportunity presented itself. This is the fourth surface lot that Melinda and I own.”
The last sentence in that paragraph may give some of you pause, perhaps thinking that the couple simply owns parking lots. That would be a very incorrect assumption. They bought their first downtown building in 1993 when they purchased 135 Gay Street, the new home of Holly’s 135. They’ve since bought additional properties and some of them included parking lots.
In 2003 they purchased the top floor of the Keller Building, made condos and sold them. They bought the Carson at 1713 S. Central in 2005 and converted it to condos which include private parking garages. In 2012 they purchased the Arcade Building, which once housed the Knoxville Journal. They have added businesses (Knoxville Office Suites) to the building and developed a condo overlooking Gay Street for their own full-time residence on the second floor. Kevin wryly noted that they bought it on April Fool’s Day and they bought this new property on Friday the 13th. Melinda is also currently assisting the owner with development of two floors of the Mechanic’s Bank and Trust Building.
So, the couple has a long-time passion for downtown. Melinda is a realtor with Sotheby’s (her ad is on this page and she kindly provides the searchable database of downtown properties linked at the top of this page) while Kevin works in the textile industry. And they have no plans to continue owning parking lots. They understand completely the need for infill development and they plan to be a part of that (hopefully) new trend taking root in the city.
They have plans on the table to build five condos on one of their parking lots. Architects have been engaged and an announcement of that construction should be coming soon. Kevin says he hopes to begin construction within weeks, though he acknowledge it could be slightly longer. Of the four lots, Kevin noted, “We have no interest in continuing to own surface lots.”
So, what are the plans for the new property? The intention is to begin the other construction project first, but to follow as quickly as possible with development of this space. Identifying the right project is the first priority. The couple has a broad vision: The building will likely have three stories and included condos on the top floor. The bottom floor will be retail and the middle floor could go either way depending on what is proposed. Each floor would have room for about four nice-sized condos. They plan to sell any condos they develop, rather than offering them for lease.
As to what possibilities exist for the bottom floor, they are mindful that hundreds of new residents are moving in across the street and the property is a hundred feet or so from the dog park. The foot-traffic is likely to be very good. They also note that traffic in general will be higher, opening the possibility for a business that could utilize a drive-through.
Like so many downtown residents, the couple would like to see something in the space that isn’t present downtown at this time. Kevin mentioned a cell-phone store and an independent computer store. That’s not to say that another coffee shop or restaurant wouldn’t be a good fit.
The couple would be very interested in hearing your suggestions. What is our new priority for downtown now that we have a pharmacy in the works? What’s missing? Taken another way, if you lived in those apartments (and maybe some of you are eyeing that possibility), what would you like to have outside your door? Maybe you have a business idea and you’ve been looking for a spot. Does that spot look like something that would work for you? Local is good, but they are not closed to the right franchise which might be proposed.
This is the kind of news that indicates to me we may be entering an entirely new phase of downtown expansion and, in my opinion, mixed-use infill is one of the very best kinds of development we could hope to see. I will have additional similar stories in the near future.
If you have a thought, you can leave it in the comments below or if you would like to pursue an idea about the property, you can contact Melinda directly at 865-356-4178 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.