When I first wrote about the plans for 923 North Central Street, or as it is now known, “The Central Collective,” readers might have been easily forgiven for thinking the entire project was a fool’s errand. When I showed the building to Urban Woman just over a year ago she said some equivalent of, “bless their hearts,” the southern equivalent for – in this case – “Boy, have they screwed up!”
The plans looked good on paper. The dreams for use of the space made sense. Shawn Poynter, who many of you know as one of Knoxville’s best photographers and Dale Mackey, who many of you know as a local tour de force of awesomeness and the empress of Dale’s Fried Pies, are a very talented, creative couple and it wouldn’t be like them to screw up this badly would it?
But the building looked like a post-apocalyptic scene from a “b” grade science fiction movie set. Other than a good foundation, there didn’t seem to be much to recommend it. Random debris sat around on the floors of both levels. The top level couldn’t even be legally accessed, as they learned that the outside stairs were not on their property.
The fact that they believed in this building and have now turned it into a shining star of that block is a testament to their vision. It’s also a lesson in preservation. They could easily have taken several tons of debris to the dump and started from scratch, but they chose to save everything possible and make the building probably more beautiful than it was when it was originally built.
Thanks to an amazing design by Ric Mixon via WystWynd Designs and the Community Design Center and with a special thanks to the City of Knoxville’s Facade Grant Program and help finding a low-interest business loan, the building is now one of the most attractive structures in that part of the city. Dale and Shawn are particularly grateful to Rogers Doughty, Gwen Winfrey and Ken McMahon of the Community Development department.
The building will have three primary daily functions. Shawn will have an official photography studio in one portion and Dale will have a formal kitchen with space to cook, meet clients and run her business. Upstairs is a suite of offices which have been leased to the Center for Rural Strategies and the Daily Yonder Newspaper. Shawn works full-time for the Center for Rural Strategies, in addition to running his photography business and Dale works part-time for the organization in the Winter.
The building now features a great and expansive deck with views of downtown Knoxville and other portions of downtown north. The deck was added as a necessity – to which they did not object – because of the loss of access from the previously mentioned stairs. It’s turned out to not only be a fun space, but functional, as well. After a hard day recently, Dale stretched out on the deck for a few minutes of yoga, realized it was a great space for that and posted it to Facebook. Very quickly, Jennifer Beyt Coffin connected with her and organized a formal yoga class on the deck. You are welcome to join the next session this Sunday from 4:30 to 6:00 PM, just after Open Streets concludes on Central (for only $10!).
A workshop, “Herbal Solutions for Sleep and Relaxation” with Kathy Burke Mihalczo is scheduled for November 5. Other events will likely be planned in one or the other of the sections of the building and much of it is available for rent as a small event space. You can expect events to be held there for the community, as well. When I mentioned how perfect the deck would be for a band with a party in the parking lot below, Shawn indicated that thought had already been discussed. It’s easy to picture the band playing above, Dale selling her fried pies, Shawn doing portraits in the studio and a generally good time for all.
If you’d like to check out the building – and why wouldn’t you? – you’ll have your chance this Sunday when The Central Collective hosts an open house to coincide with the Open Streets event, which happens just outside their front door. Stop in and tell Shawn and Dale how much you appreciate what they’ve done and soak in just how far this ramshackle address has come in the last year or so.