It’s really a set of three buildings which have long been internally connected. The oldest is 124 West Jackson which is distinguished by its more ornamental facade. As Knoxville’s economy shifted from mills to the manufacture of textiles, the building was constructed sometime in the last years of the 1890s for that purpose and never deviated until it was sold last year. A second four-story building was added at 120 W. Jackson just after the turn of the century.
The third and final building in the set, 114 W. Jackson, was built in the mid 1920s. Interestingly, it was built across an existing street. If you look closely you can see that the portion of this building (the three story section) angles slightly on its western end in order to intersect flush with the older building at 120. Interestingly, John H. Daniel only ran the clothing business for a short period in the 1930s. He was bought out by the Bryan family who operated the business in the building from that point until they moved it to its new location at 1803 N. Central late last year.
The buildings along with a parking lot across the street and one to the rear was purchased last year for $2.9 million by a Brighton Investors, LLC, a group which includes Jon Clark and Ron Turner. The two graciously met with me, touring me through the building and speaking of their plans and vision for the property. When the group made the purchase they announced intentions of investing over $9 million to turn the manufacturing center into commercial and residential space and the process is well under way.
Each of the men have a long history with development projects. Jon Clark worked with David Dewhirst from 2006 to 2009, a fertile period in downtown redevelopment, which saw them work to bring Firestreet Lofts, the Holston, the Cherokee and JFG Flats to the residential market. He and his wife owned and re-developed 14 Market Square, currently the new portion of Tomato Head, and lived there for two-and-a-half years starting in 2001. Clark and Turner were both involved in the Arnstein, which was initially intended to be condos before the financial markets began to struggle in 2009.
While Ron is originally from Knoxville, he has lived in New York City (a fifth-floor walk-up) and Atlanta. While in Atlanta, he redeveloped the Tucker Federal Building. His connection to the John H. Daniel building is not only professional, but personal . In 1936 when his grandfather passed away leaving a widow with thirteen children, Ron’s grandmother flagged the train down near her home and rode to the Southern Station, where, crossing the tracks, she found work at the John H. Daniel Building. Nearly eighty years later he’s helping give it a new life.
They noted that every single property from Gay Street, down Jackson to Central has been purchased since 2007. With larger resources and experience, generally, than the previous building owners, the transfers have resulted in a surge in redevelopment. Jon stated that he felt the area is a good example of public and private investment working together for positive change.
Both become excited when discussing the property and their plans. At seventy residential units it will be one of the largest developments of an existing building in the downtown area (the Sterchi has 99). They started with a vision of a very high end finish for all the spaces and were able to make the numbers work to maintain the high quality they desired. The units will be for lease, not for sale as financing continues to be difficult for condominium projects.
The residential units will range from around 400 square feet to around 2,000 square feet. Multiple plans are offered, from efficiency apartments to two bedroom/two bath units. The units on the top floor will include skylights and a mezzanine. Noting that building apartments in an existing building is around 40% to 50% more expensive than new construction, they said the apartments will start in the $750 range and likely will top out around $1800 to $1900 per month.
Each will include dedicated parking spaces to the rear of the building and storage spaces in the basement. A large elevator is being installed which should make moving items up and down the four stories relatively easy. Interestingly, both talked about the necessity of parking at this time in Knoxville’s development, but each felt over the next decade the downtown Knoxville area will become less car-centric. Ron said he watched it happen in Atlanta during his time there.
Other than an access lobby for residents, the Jackson Avenue frontage will be devoted to commercial space. There are seven total spaces (1200 sq ft. to 2000 sq ft.) reserved for that purpose although a retailer wishing for a larger space could conceivably take more than one, reducing the total. Both men expressed a determination that, as much as it will be in their power, they really want the retail to enhance not only the daily life of the hundred or so residents of their building, but of the Old City and downtown in general. Free parking will be offered directly across the street for customers of the businesses which locate in the building. One retail space is already spoken for and I hope to have more on that, soon.
They have preserved as much of the 109,000 sq. ft. building as possible while re-purposing it, but some original features had to be removed or changed. Some stairwells, for example simply didn’t work and current building requirements dictated additional stairwells (there will be three) and the new elevator. One stairwell will remain simply for appearance though it will not be used.
The old elevator, interestingly, was still working and they were told it might have been the oldest operating elevator in the area. Obviously, a modern sprinkler system had to be installed, but surprisingly, the building included one from the beginning – and, again, it may have been the oldest in the area. It operated by gravity from a massive water storage tank in the top of the building.
The two told me they hope to have a website for the building available this summer with a target opening date for both residential and retail of late spring 2016. One variable beyond their control will be the Jackson Avenue Streetscape project set to run during the same time frame. Delays or conflicts there could impact the opening date for the building. When the website emerges, there may also be a different name for the building, though a new name hasn’t been determined. While they are open to inquiries at any time regarding commercial leases (email@example.com), they plan to focus on pre-leasing once the website is in place.