It’s been a long and tortured journey for the former Farragut Hotel. Under utilized, forlorn and nearly abandoned for decades, its become a point of discussion in recent years. One ambitious plan to return it to a hotel was announced only to falter and fail. Rick Dover purchased the building and toyed with the idea of making it a combination hotel and very high-end apartment building. It was clear from early on that he wanted it to be a hotel, but he wasn’t sure that was viable.
A few months ago, Joe Sullivan wrote a piece in the Mercury saying that intentions had reversed and it would be a hotel. The search was on for several components which would make the project work, including dedicated parking, a tax deferment and a low-interest HUD loan. Each of these have subsequently lined up with a twenty-five year PILOT from the city and county, guaranteed parking in the state street garage (for which he will pay market rates) and, with the help of the city, the HUD loan for $2.9 million was secured.
Construction seemed to have begun in earnest over the winter and a press conference yesterday made the kind of announcement needed for the project to take the next step: Hyatt will brand the hotel as one of their Hyatt Place hotels, returning the Hyatt brand to Knoxville. Operations will be handled by White Lodging. Congressman Duncan, Mayors Rogero and Burchett and others were on hand to laud the emergent hotel.
The new hotel in the nine-story building will feature 165 rooms. Originally built in 1917 with 190 rooms, the rooms will be larger this time around. Also included will be a market open twenty-four hours a day serving freshly prepared foods. (The previous statement of a 24 hour restaurant was my error. There will be no formal restaurant in the hotel.) A coffee-to-cocktails bar serving “specialty coffees and premium beers,” as well as wine and cocktails is a part of the project, as well as a twenty-four hour gym and 2700 square feet of “flexible, high-tech meeting/function space.”
No mention was made in the press release of some of the grander ideas floated in the past, such as an entertainment venue in the basement, multiple restaurants, or a return of the ballroom that older citizens in the city remember. There will be (this is a correction to an error in my earlier version of this article) a rooftop presence of some sort to be determined. Still, Hyatt Place represents a very nice brand, with rates at Nashville’s downtown Hyatt Place running upwards from the mid $300 range to the upper $400 range per night. Knoxville’s rates could obviously be less than those charged in Nashville.
To have a historic hotel downtown of this size would certainly be significant for Knoxville and it’s been a missing piece to our re-development. It’s hard to name significant cities without a large historic hotel and while we have had the Oliver, its size limits its impact. With the prospect of 60 to 80 jobs – and around 200 construction jobs during that phase – the hotel will also be a significant employer.
Plans call for it to open early in 2017, which will be the 100th anniversary of the building of the original hotel.