Inside the JC Penney Building Restoration and Renovation

Architectural rendering of the finished building

Architectural rendering of the finished building

In what might be the highest profile re-development project in the history of the city, a team of developers joined to essentially re-build the JC Penney Building. Tim Hill of Hatcher-Hill Properties, who is working on the project in conjunction with  Dewhirst Properties, agreed to give me a tour and show me the progress.

The building was originally three buildings and hence occupies 412-416 S. Gay Street. While the three addresses now essentially form one building, three Gay Street entrances will open onto separate businesses when the development is finished in late summer. 412, the narrow building to the left is yet-to-be leased, while the center will be a restaurant and the building on the right will be the entrance to the bowling concept which will be located on the basement level. I plan to have more about the businesses in a subsequent article.

First floor, Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

First floor, Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

First floor, Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

First floor, Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

First floor, Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

First floor, Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

While the photographs here show large amounts of work remaining, it must be remembered that the roof had caved in on the building. Rain fell freely throughout and much of the internal structure had been lost. It wasn’t quite an empty shell behind the facade, but it was close. The task was daunting. Remember the “New. Urban. Living. Coming Soon.” banner which adorned the front of the building for several years? Clearly the idea to bring the building back isn’t new. Maybe it simply wasn’t time.

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Basement Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Just inside the entrance to 416 Gay Street will be the connection into the basement bowling alley. Several lanes will line the center of the basement, while the left side will include lanes that could be used for private parties. Additional lanes will be included in the lower portion of 416. The bowling alley will also have an upstairs lounge. But more about that later.

In the last couple of years the building has been through several potential clients and configurations. Office space originally appeared to be planned for at least a couple of the upper floors. Altar’d State was set to occupy the street-level commercial space and their corporate headquarters were to occupy the space above their retail outlet. When I wrote about the plan in January of 2013 it proved to be quite controversial with readers of this blog. That deal didn’t happen and over the course of the last two years the plans for office space shifted to residential.

Second and Third Floor Plans

Second and Third Floor Plans

Fourth floor plans

Fourth floor plans

To get a feel for the scope of the project, consider the numbers: 11,000 square feet of space at street-level. The full building contains 60,000 square feet. With that many square feet, a large number of urban apartments could be constructed. The developers have chosen to construct larger apartments (they will be leased, not condos for purchase) and the result is fewer, but more spacious units than would otherwise have been the case.

Two of the buildings have four floors, while 412 has only three, making the number of units smaller on the top floor. Also interesting, is the fact that 412 isn’t as deep as the other two buildings after the basement and first floor. I count seventeen units, including six on each of the second and third floors and five on the fourth, but the promotional materials mention twenty units, so I’m not sure about the difference, but there will be near twenty.

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

The two units at 412 will be smaller, though substantial by urban standards, at just a bit over 1200 sq. feet. They are typically urban in their long and narrow shape, but they do include two bedrooms and two baths. The units facing Gay Street on the front of the building are the largest with three measuring 2,125 sq. feet and three measuring 2,290 sq. ft. Pretty much suburban-sized homes, they do have an urban feel with hardwood floors, exposed brick and beams and very high ceilings. They also feature massive, arched windows with spectacular views of Gay Street and the city. With walk-in closets and two-bedroom (3) and three-bedroom (3) plans.

There are three units along the back of each of the top three floors, for a total of nine. Three have 1480 sq. ft., three have 1,275 square feet and three measure 1,720 square feet. Each of the nine have two bedrooms and two baths. It’s surprising to see large laundry rooms, master baths and walk-in closets in downtown apartments. The units running along the back of the building will also include small balconies, hence the outside doors you see in the photographs.

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Of course, well over two thousand square feet of residential space overlooking Gay Street will not come cheaply. Rates haven’t been finalized for the unit, but given downtown rates elsewhere, the cost would likely be $3,000 or more a month for the front units. Clearly it will address a market which doesn’t include everyone. But then, it’s hard to find that kind of space elsewhere in the center city and there isn’t a much more central location.

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

View of the Kress Building from Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 - 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

View of the Kress Building from Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

The current projection is for the residential units to be available in June and the retail space to be open and operating by around August. It’s a bit hard to believe after so many years languishing and derelict, as well as several years discussion of re-development that this building will once more be a productive part of the city. After the Kress building is renovated, all the large buildings on Gay Street will be viable and useful once more, which is something to celebrate.

Tim Hill, Co-developer of the JC Penney Bldg, Knoxville, March 2015

Tim Hill, Co-developer of the JC Penney Bldg, Knoxville, March 2015

If you are interested in leasing the 1,175 square feet of retail space on Gay Street or one of the apartments, contact Tim Hill at (865)719-7538 or tim@hatcherhill.com.

Comments

  1. Sleeping rooms, ie. bedrooms, are required to have a second means of egress, such as a window. However, if the structure has an automatic sprinkler system and alarm then there is no requirement for the second means of egress. Ken mentioned light and ventilation, which is required regardless. We have provided these in various ways in the past; glass doors, translucent panels, reflective surfaces, walls which do not extend to the ceiling, etc. The loss of views is one of the most challenging problems to address. Therefore, we always layer our spaces with material and finish variations coupled with interesting lighting to provide an interesting interior view. Southern California courtyard housing from the 1920’s and 30’s were our inspiration.

    Looking forward to seeing the finished project. Cheers!

  2. So happy to see this old building finally getting a complete restoration. It’s an exciting time to be downtown in the Scruffy City. But, keeping Knoxville Scruffy may be difficult as others have noted, at least in terms of affordability. It’s a cycle of decay and renewal that happens everywhere. One way to prevent this gentrification process is to ensure that zoning does not preclude sub-dividing properties and perhaps asking developers to set aside some spaces for subsidized housing. I know this is controversial to some, but I think we need a mix of people of different means downtown. Urban Guy makes a good point about the general pattern. As rents rise in central Knoxville, more places on the periphery (e.g., across I-40 and James White) will be settled by urban pioneers. (I’m not forgetting those who never left these areas.) This is already happening, and I think it’s great to expand the downtown footprint.

  3. Building codes require a bedroom to have egress, so downtown living spaces are grandfathered in as the buildings are historical and obviously weren’t built to modern code. Outside of these are a then a room is required to have a window for egress in order to be considered a bedroom

    • In case this hasn’t been made clear by others’ comments, this is a fire safety issue. Bedrooms usually have a requirement of a window of a certain size and height off the floor so that firefighters can climb in/out rescuing people.

      • By that I mean, the question that was raised about having no windows in a bedroom not being allowed. I am not suggesting these apartments (or any others downtown that may not have windows in bedrooms) are unsafe. Just trying to clarify the points/questions above.

        • Ken Moffett says:

          Guess I started a thread about the interior bedrooms; and should have looked into it before making any wisecracks. They are legal; such projects could hardly have been done otherwise. I suppose I reveal my suburban context in preferring bedrooms with natural light and cross-ventilation.

  4. As a resident of the Phoenix Building (next door), I also don’t have windows in my bedroom. It’s not illegal. Hell it probably helps me sleep better!

  5. Ken & Jacci Fletcher says:

    As residents, we agree that downtown living is for sure different, but we think it is awesome! There may be some drawbacks but the good outweighs the bad. It is just great that these developers are willing to risk alot of time and money to make the downtown area of Knoxville as great as we all know it can be. Good job!!!!

  6. Kenneth Moffett says:

    Nice front elevation. But who wants to live in tiny bedrooms buried in the middle of the building with not only no cross ventilation but no natural light at all? And since when has that been even legal?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I’m not sure of an actual law that ever said every bedroom has to have a window, but to your point: Many units downtown have bedrooms without windows and they are full of people who either like that or are willing to live in them in order to be downtown. Also, some of these do have windows to the bedrooms, if I recall correctly. Remember that 412 doesn’t go all the way to the rear. Most often any move to the city includes choices. It isn’t suburban and some places have more noise, better views, too much or too little light, etc. It sounds like window-less bedrooms would be a deal-breaker for you and I bet you aren’t alone. We’re all different.

    • I see your point, but we have a windowless guest room. My guests say it’s the best sleep they’ve ever had!

  7. wow. gay street is becoming more and more exciting! bring on the tacos!

  8. Yikes, that is high rent. If I had that kind of money to spend on rent, I would just buy a place. But I suppose they must think there is a rental market for that.

    It feels more and more like the younger 20-30 something working singles and couples are being priced out of downtown. I really worry that soon it’ll be a very high income residential area and only big businesses will be able to afford storefronts.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      It’s a concern I’ve heard several times today. I’m not sure if there is a remedy for the cycle: A prime area is underutilized and affordable/It becomes hip, attractive and filled/Prices go up/more people can’t afford it. If I wanted to see a silver lining, I would say that as prices go up and some of us are forced out of the most pricey areas, we’ll begin to inhabit previously unattractive areas and they will start to transform. If rent stayed cheap on Market Square, for example, why would businesses move beyond that area? Unfortunately, that raises the concern of chains (who can afford the high rents) moving in to those spaces. I see it as a concern, but a trend we wouldn’t want to avoid because it means the place is becoming more desirable.

    • I’ve got to wonder, if the Knoxville housing market is so strong that rebuilding a dilapidated historic structure from the inside out makes economic sense, why hasn’t there been any signficant new residential construction in the last 50 years? A new building might actually be cheaper, especially if Gay St frontage now yields $3000/mo rents. And there’s no shortage of vacant lots on and around Gay St.

  9. Old Buckeye says:

    I really enjoy seeing the inside of these buildings that are under remodeling. Thanks for the sneak peek!

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