The Ely Building is Finally Ready for Renovation

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

It’s been a long journey for the Ely Building (1903) at 406 Church Avenue. I first wrote a full article about it in May of 2012. On the market for $899,000 at the time, I thought it made a good investment. Each floor, including a basement and two above-ground floors are 2,000 square feet, for a total of 6,000 square feet. $150 per  square foot would certainly be considered a bargain in the current downtown market.

The building subsequently sold to Eddie and Kelley Reymond for $725,000 about a year after that article. They first attempted to purchase 2 Market Square, but another offer was accepted before they made theirs. They looked at the Ely Building and fell in love with it. Kelley pointed out they bought it before they thought about it.

Rendering of the Ely Building

Rendering of the Ely Building

Rendering of the Ely Building

Rendering of the Ely Building

The sequence of events leading up to the sale and renovations illustrates the difficulties of completing downtown projects. Like most home purchases, it started with obtaining a loan. Like most loans, it started with finding comparable sales, or “comps.” Quick: Name all the other stand-alone residential properties in the uptown portion of downtown. Stumped? The Mary Boyce Temple House is the only one I can name, along with the small home beside it. One bank declined and another was contracted.

The loan secured, six months passed as architects discussed plans. Then the couple asked for internal demolition to expose anything that might prove to be an obstacle and, fortunately, did not unearth any major disasters. Many internal walls will be removed, particularly on the first floor which will be largely open.

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

The couple and their thirteen-year-old son are very excited to be making the move to downtown. A daughter who is a UT student, has accepted it and another daughter has refused to move. Moving downtown can cause family complications which generally work out in time. Urban Daughter was not happy to have her parents moving to the city (“where will I park when I visit?”), but she came around to love the idea. Perhaps the same will be true for their daughter.

Eddie grew up in Switzerland and his family parked a half-mile from their residence, so he’s not intimidated by parking downtown. He is a fitness advocate who owns and operates Eddie’s Health Shoppe in Bearden and the Knoxville Performance Lab. He also co-founded the Knoxville Marathon with Zane Hagy and is marketing Zen Evo dark chocolate which is now being sold in twenty-five states.

Kelley laughed and pointed out that the couple picked up cans to make money in their early years. Eddie said they love the city so much because it has given them such a good life. In twenty-six years of marriage, they’ve lived in Halls and then in the Bearden area for the last thirteen years. They greatly anticipated becoming involved in downtown and hope to contribute to its growth.

As far as the work to be done, there is plenty. The outside will be refurbished, but the historic facade will be maintained. And the outside is really in remarkable shape, especially for a building that has been vacant for so long. They said they’d had a little graffiti, but nothing major. The home includes thirty-four non-functioning, non-matching windows which will all have to be replaced.

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

Grace Construction will do the build-out of the plans developed by Sanders-Pace Architecture. The look will be modern and open. The couple has chosen to defer basement construction until a later date, focusing on the upper 4,000 square feet. Architectural details like doors and including the cool (somewhat mysterious) door knobs with the letter “M” and the beautiful, original pocket door will be preserved, though they will be moved around a bit.

Original Interior Door Knobs, Ely Building, Knoxville, 2012

Original Interior Door Knobs, Ely Building, Knoxville, 2012

Originally planning retail on the first floor, they realized the difficulties involved in making it ADA compliant for a business. Likely, another entrance would have been needed on the side where they would have been required to purchase handicapped parking spaces from St. John’s Episcopal. It became too complicated and they decided to make the bottom floor residential, though it could be converted at a later date. Plans call for the first floor to be a sitting room/living room/kitchen/dining and theater room.

The second floor will include a master bedroom with a very cool balcony (already in place above the front door). Two baths, a smaller bedroom and a very small bedroom/study will complete the floor. It’s the roof-top, however, which has generated some discussion. The structure will be about 25X15, providing an additional 375 square feet of enclosed space and an additional deck area. The Downtown Design Review Board approved the plans last fall.

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

Ely Building, 406 Church Avenue, Knoxville, February 2016

A stainless steel, modern staircase will be a “focal point,” (we joked about the phrase) and will run from the basement up to the rooftop inside the eastern wall of the building. The stairwell will be open through each floor and the rooftop structure will be set slightly back from the street, but will be toward the front of the home. The open stairwell will allow light to filter from the rooftop through each floor.

The hope is to have construction completed and be able to move in by late this year. When they said it, it felt almost as if they were afraid to say it out loud. Suffice to say it has been a long journey, but they are getting closer to the end.




  1. Tree Ely Griffin says

    I love this building, especially the name ( my maiden name ????). Would like to know the history of it.

  2. Chris Eaker says

    Sounds great. Is this going to just be their personal residence or are they making condos to sell?

    • Sounds like it will be their personal home–the discussion of the family disagreement, the bottom floor being kitchen, living, and theater space, and bedrooms upstairs.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Personal residence. There is, however, a possibility the basement could become a rented apartment at some point and a portion of the main floor could become a business, but those plans are far down the road if they happen at all.

  3. Church Avenue is becoming better than ever!
    The Duncan Transit Center, the First Presbyterian Church renovation, the rehab of the old KUB building (Tombras) on the little Flower Pot corner, and now the restored Ely Building are wonders, indeed, for Knoxville lovers.
    Do you know actual plans for the old News-Sentinel site?

  4. Thanks for mentioning the architect’s and contractor’s names. They are absent from almost all write-ups about construction projects these days.

  5. It’s exciting to know of another couple doing this kind of development. Welcome to downtown Knoxville, guys!

  6. Tree Ely Griifin says

    That’s great! Thanks for the info!

  7. This is great news, and congratulations to the owners! Thanks for the story and the architectural details, Urban Guy. I wish more structures such as the Ely had survived the parking lot binge in downtown. It would be great fun to take on a project like this, given the resources to do it right. Can’t wait to see the finished home.

  8. Mary Linda Schwarzbart says

    This is a building I have always loved. So nice to see it restored as a residence.

  9. Jacqueline says

    Those M engraved door nobs are exactly like the front door nob at the McCallister residence in Home Alone!

  10. Custom Wood Design, Inc. is providing all of the new modern cabinetry for this beautiful project. This building is a prime example of a great architect, general contractor and subcontractors working together to preserve this piece of local history for this family to enjoy for years and years.

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