Courtyard and Residence Inn by Marriott May Come to Downtown

View from the Southeast

View from the Southeast

The vacant property located along State Street from Church over to Cumberland has been the subject of speculation for several years. Once the site of the Knoxville News Sentinel, the building that housed the newspaper was torn down and the half-block has remained empty since. It is currently in use as a staging ground for the KUB work.

The land was purchased in 2012 by Paramount Hospitality Management for $1.1 million and the intention was to build a 120 room Residence Inn. Over the course of the last four years the plans have changed and now the plans call for a much larger project to include a nine-story hotel with 232 rooms and an attached 3-story, mostly underground, parking garage with 226 spaces.

The hotel will be dual branded with 144 rooms dedicated to the Courtyard by Marriott design and 88 rooms dedicated to the Residence Inn by Marriott design. A fitness facility, restaurant and meeting spaces will also be included. The Knoxville News Sentinel quotes president Nick Lakha as saying, “It will also have a Starbucks coffee shop and a restaurant and bar called The Bistro that will face Church Street. They will cater to both guests of the hotel and locals.”

Former Site of the Knoxville News Sentinel, Church Avenue, Knoxville, December 2012

Former Site of the Knoxville News Sentinel, Church Avenue, Knoxville, December 2012

The structure will be post tension concrete deck and concrete columns, with the street-side skin being a mix of exposed concrete and masonry. In preliminary discussion with the Downtown Design Review Board, concern was expressed over the appearance of the building from Gay Street since it will be easily visible over the existing buildings on the 700 block. You’ll notice the renderings released do not show that side of the building.

The principal entrance to the hotel and to the parking garage will be via Church Street across from the Elliot. Care was taken to have that end of the hotel fit a different scale because of the Elliot. Rather than towering over that shorter building, the entrance to the hotel will feature a second-floor rooftop terrace which will be a space open to patrons of the restaurant and bar – both guests of the hotel and local residents.

It’s important to note that we are still early in the process and many details are evolving. Other stories have reported different dates to begin construction, as well as different lengths of time to complete the $43 million project. Additionally, the design is still evolving, as noted by Mr. Lakha. I’ve been following the twists and turns for several months and it still hasn’t been formally presented to the Downtown Design Review Board after which it has to go to the Metropolitan Planning Commission, then tax deferments will likely be requested and city council will have to take that up.

I don’t believe this is a “Sentinel Tower” type project which is just a dream and will never happen. The odds seem much better than that and a great amount of work has been done. Still, there are hurdles remaining and what happens next will be interesting. If anything can be drawn from this burst of coverage, perhaps it is that Mr. Lakha is confident the project will succeed.

View from the Northeast

View from the Northeast

Assuming it does, there will be more to discuss.For example, can downtown Knoxville support two new hotel projects at once? If they are supported do others, such as the Hyatt survive? And residents along Church will have eighteen months of construction after which they will have a nine-story building across the street.

The structure also relegates – probably necessarily, the western side of the 700 block to remaining the side of a parking garage in perpetuity, as well as that half-block of Cumberland. It also changes the appearance of the city both from Gay Street and from James White Parkway. Church Street, particularly, will become much more traveled.

None of these changes are intrinsically good or bad, but changes they are and worth considering. Should this hotel be built, and it seems like it will be, it will change that end of downtown. In a larger view, it converts a blighted half-block into an active, dynamic area and that seems like a very good thing.


  1. Dee Pierce says

    Bring on the monorail or any kind of passenger rail service!

  2. Let’s look at the big picture to see what Downtown could eventually become. It’s all here but the monorail:

  3. Dee Pierce says

    Dittos to Kristen Faerber and Chrissy. I added a similar comment to the News Sentinel story about this proposal. People who live and work on downtown’s scenic riverside are also concerned about how a second Marriott will impact the existing Marriott — particularly because of the close proximity. We don’t need an empty shell sitting along the riverfront due to a lack of foresight, planning or concern by the city or private/corporate investors. And it seems doubtful there will consistently be enough downtown visitors to support two Marriotts plus the new/old Farragut hotel and other existing hotels. The Urban Land Institute advisory panel (2014) also strongly encouraged the downtown community to focus on riverside development (residential and business). This proposal is likely to hurt the riverside retail community without another “concrete” plan for the existing Marriott building. As Chrissy and Kristen mentioned, I’d also still like to see the city/private investors more committed to retail development which would serve the entire downtown residential community. I think residential-centered retail would strengthen our urban economy more than empty hotel rooms for visitor-prospects. I’d also like to see more “thinking outside the box” in regard to the residential community — maybe even step back in time and recruit a department store to set up shop!

  4. Chester G. Kilgore says

    I generally attempt to be polite, but I just have to give my opinion of this design for Downtown. It is a plain Jane ugly building which screams “committee architecture”. It is bulky, confused in exterior finishes, and just a plain ordinary, utilitarian building which would be at home in the former USSR. It will not add a thing to our Downtown except the regret that we built it at all some 20 years from now. Bottom line…If it’s going to be so large that it can not be ignored, it needs to contribute to Downtown enough to be a landmark, not just fill space on a neglected lot.

  5. As an Elliott resident, I was concerned 2 years ago when the hotel was being discussed. After 15 months of being neighbor to the KUB work site….I can hardly wait for the hotel to break ground! Bring it on!

    • Yes, the beeping from the front end loader seems to start about 6 am every day, coupled with various vehicles driving on and off the site continually. Last winter, we had jack hammers outside our door daily for weeks, shaking the entire building, which is just below you. The current site is an ugly mess due to the KUB upgrade laydown. We are happy to see the downtown utility upgrade since it’s badly needed, but well into year # 2, we are hoping it is done soon!

  6. I like the idea of development, and when people see a big development like this in a lot that’s been empty for a long time, People get excited and want to start construction asap, but this project??? Really??? I don’t mind a new hotel, but adding 232 rooms into a market that isn’t really hot right now doesn’t sound like a good idea. That plus the addition of the Farragut Hyatt Hotel definitely doesn’t sound like a good idea. I don’t want this business, the the Farragut, Oliver, or any other hotel going out of business where the city is left with a giant building that needs a new owner. Think what would happen if this hotel went out of business. How would we find someone to do something with it? It’s a huge building. If it did go out of business, which I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, then we’d have TVA tower 3 on our hands. And the design? WHY? Why do “developers” have to keep building giant concrete blobs? It looks like the Children’s hospital expansion, and anyone who has been on the Cumberland Avenue strip knows how that turned out. I much would’ve rather had the Sentinel Tower there, or at least something that wouldn’t flood a market that isn’t doing well anyway. Maybe a mixed use tower with Condos and a smaller hotel, but this is too much, and I think this lot has more potential than a giant cube hotel.

    • I mean the hospital expansion is ugly imo. The design looked good, just like this one does, but I think it’s not going to look nearly this good when built, and I think people will scratch their heads, wondering why it was even built.

  7. Well if it were true, I couldn’t think of a better place for one.

  8. Tim Lucas says

    This is wonderful for downtown and I’m happy to see something finally being done with this prominent site, but the dreamer in me was hoping for a mixed-use tower. It’s a perfect location for a ‘signature tower’ maybe 25-30 stories which could have a hotel, lofts and office space. Again, pie in the sky. We’ll take what we can get, right? 🙂

    • I agree Tim. In a perfect world, this would be a sublime residential tower for locals. As you say, that’s not the deal we have sort-of in hand. A vacant lot is just a vacant lot and it takes a lot of financing to build these sites out, which very few folks can obtain. I’ll add, with respect to hotels, that there’s a mixed bag here from my view. The more locals that live downtown, versus tourists in hotels, the more amenities the locals will have in the long run (grocery store anyone?). The flip side is tourists may help continue to boost the use of the convention center — which appears under-utilized and costs the city a lot to have around. Likewise, perhaps those visitors will occupy space that they might have looked to be in out west? I can’t answer that, but presumably the hotel folks understand this issue before they build. Point being that it may get more folks downtown during weekends, holidays, sporting events, etc, and bring in more tax revenue to enable more things to happen. As someone pointed out recently, we are now seeing infill of vacant lots in downtown, because the historic building base is running dry, which seems like an overall positive as long as there is oversight of the development.

      • I could be wrong but I feel like I read somewhere that there were talks of putting a full service grocery store as one of the main tenants on the bottom floor of Regas Square.

      • Just curious — are the Courtyard and Residence Inn room size, designs, and configurations amenable to conversion to efficiency apartments or condos in the event the hotel concept does go belly-up due to over-saturation of the market?

  9. Kristen Faerber says

    I am not a fan of this project, even apart from the aesthetic concerns. I don’t understand the continued addition of hotels to our downtown. I support the Farragut Hotel project because of its historical ties, and yes, we probably need a more upscale hotel (in addition to The Oliver). The Urban Land Institute report indicates that our 2013 room occupancy rate was 56.4% and that The Oliver outperforms our market (my inference is that is due to its unique-ness, and the Farragut would likely have similar appeal). And according to the random Google search I just did, the average national hotel room occupancy rate for 2015 is 65.6%. I don’t think we need the large influx of hotel rooms we seemingly are building. It seems like it could turn into a bubble for downtown. And it may not be the best use to enliven this neglected area of town. I don’t think the Hampton Inn has done a lot to enliven Main Street at Henley. Visitors to Knoxville are certainly important to our city, but creating a city for the people who live here is what will make other people want to visit. I realize a project is better than an empty lot, but this just doesn’t feel like the right project to me. I also don’t understand why hotels would be the big thing that would happen here. Do the outsiders think Knoxville isn’t hip enough to make good use of Airbnb? The hotel industry is relatively threatened by that new “sharing economy.” Maybe we can open up several more cab companies here too. Sorry for the snark.

    • Art Wagner says

      For the most part, I have to agree with Kristen Faerber. Most of us are so anxious to see downtown empty lots returned to vital urban uses that we tend to overlook the downsides of aesthetics and reality. The issue of hotel capacity is a real one that few of us without data can evaluate. However, assuming the ULI figures are accurate, its clear that Knoxville hotel occupancy varies wildly. No one wants to underestimate future growth, but neither does one want to glut a market and unnecessarily dissipate the market for existing businesses.

      $43 million projects do not start digging unless those in financial control feel the risk is valid. This is not a Farragut Hotel project that is steeped in Knoxville-ness. This looks to be a suburban-style project trying to fit into an urban space and steal market share from others. For that reason, I’ll be really surprised if the bulldozers ever show up.

    • Your response isn’t snarky at all, and I share your sentiments on this. We need more unique things to do downtown both for tourists and for area residents before we can justify so many hotels in such a small downtown. We need more park development, more retail development, more cultural development, etc. Also, if they’re serious about making Knoxville a destination like Chattanooga or Asheville, the city needs to get serious about thinking about bigger projects (don’t forget — the city passed on having the TN Aquarium). My suspicion is that the hotel will serve the same type of guest that the Hampton Inn and the Hilton serve: business travelers.

  10. Oren Yarbrough says

    If the new downtown headquarters for Tombras gets built in the old TVA building the way it was recently presented and approved by the city then I think this intersection could begin to define a “modern” section of downtown. Sanders Pace Architects did an amazing job keeping the scale of the Tombras development in line with everything else along that portion of Gay St. If Marriott and the architects working on the project can do the same and still keep the project modern then I will be excited to see what the two buildings in proximity would begin to do to that portion of downtown.

    Its a shame when the most modern structures of any large scale downtown are from the 1980’s. Sadly, these buildings also replaced extremely gorgeous historic structures so the backlash from their development has created an instinctive recoil in the public’s mind to building anything large or modern downtown as immediately being destructive and out of character.

    I could see something equally modern and tasteful in scale across the street where we currently have a parking lot. The Pryor Brown garage is in the background and could be a nice juxtaposition of old and new. We need to not be afraid to place modern architecture adjacent to historic buildings as long as we are smart with how the two compliment and contrast from one another.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Agreed. Just to be clear, Tombras is re-developing the old “KUB” building at the corner of Church and Gay.

      • Oren Yarbrough says

        For some strange reason I thought it was a TVA building during its Art Deco phase but I guess I was wrong. My apologies.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          Not to my knowledge, but I could be wrong. I just remember interacting with it in the 80’s, begging for KUB to keep the lights on during our lean years.

  11. My wife and I live less than a block from this site and, if built, we’d be able to see the top portion looking up at it. Likewise, we would be able to hear the construction effort, much like we’ve heard the utility work for over a year now (which we support, to be clear). I think this is a good use of this site, but wanted to make a couple of observations as well. First, as alluded to, what we have now and have had for over a decade is an ugly empty trash-strewn lot at the site. So having something useful and reasonably designed there is a huge improvement. Likewise, it’s a city, so the number of stories seems like a bit of a non-issue and it’s less than the “sentinel towers” which as I recall were proposed to be 25 stories or something of that sort. One thing mentioned in the KNS and not here was that the lot has some underlying issues with karst and the developer had to go higher and deeper to actually make the building both structurally sound and financially viable (more reinforcement costs more to build, ergo more rooms). This infers as well that if this project does not happen, a future developer (if they appear) would have the same issues — bottom line is this is not an easy lot to build on. Which circles back to my first point of supporting an effort that has the wherewithal to get rid of the vacant lot, lest visitors and locals continue to have it in a corridor of downtown. That said, I agree that hopefully the design can be refined so that this is a positive addition to the area.

  12. Art Wagner says

    “In preliminary discussion with the Downtown Design Review Board, concern was expressed over the appearance of the building from Gay Street since it will be easily visible over the existing buildings on the 700 block. You’ll notice the renderings released do not show that side of the building.”

    Isn’t this something of absolute primary importance? Imagine yourself on the 700 block of Gay Street looking east. Do you see a blank 12 story wall?

  13. It may just be adding the the “garage district” but the most important thing is it’s another tall building (12 stories with the parking garage added) to add to our skyline. The bigger the better!

  14. Art Wagner says

    Renderings are intended to illustrate a project’s appearance, but also place it in the best possible light and environment. For example, both rendering views shows the surface parking lot on the opposite side (east side) of State Street as a bucolic lawn, when in fact it is a non-complying, space-wasting, unattractive surface lot for cars skirted by weeds and uneven sidewalk. Someone arriving via the Cumberland offramp sees something largely ugly. In this case, the rendering does its job by almost making the viewer forget that the actual environment is quite different. The discussion of sight lines, approaches, adjacent space, and garage corridors is one that must really take place if we are to retain livability and image, as well as having new and decent development.

  15. Kenneth Moffett says

    Grater- yes, it does look a bit like a grater, and is a bit grating. Yes, a massive bulk as well, despite familiar wallpapering tricks of the trade. One hopes the design reaches the design review board before it is impossible to adjust, and that said board actually has any power to improve the architecture of proposed new construction in any case. We are finally running out of nice old buildings to renovate (some done well, some not), leaving us with the scary prospect of developer-driven new design. At least something is happening.

  16. Oren Yarbrough says

    Knoxville needs to get serious about enforcing a form based building code if they want all this future development to benefit the pedestrian and not the developer/commuter. I read a comment recently on a separate article that had a very memorable quote when referring to certain parts of downtown as the “Garage District”.
    Liner buildings at the pedestrian level of garages are essential to keeping our streets inviting and active and safe for people walking around. Developers need to realize that if they make all sides of their buildings safe and inviting then more opportunities for development and businesses to go in next door or across the street will occur, bringing in more pedestrians to bring in more business for all to share.

    A perfect example of a garage that didn’t screw things up downtown is the Locust Street Garage. Pete’s Diner is a liner building that keeps Union St active and safe for the half block in front of the Daylight Building. Along Locust St the building has a large amount of variation in the facade and feels more like a grouping of buildings than one massive parking garage. Church St is sadly another stark Garage zone , but not because of Locust Garage, but because of the blank concrete facade of the orange garage opposite Synergy Tattoo.
    Knoxville needs to not be afraid to be forceful with developers when bringing new construction to downtown. The tables are beginning to turn on this district and the city has more leverage in saying how things should look. I am not suggesting the hotel look like some fake antique, far from it. I just believe it is ignorant to allow for “dead zones” on new construction in such an important area.
    Dewhirst is literally trying to add a liner building to the front of the State St garage as part of his long term strategy for the Marble Alley Complex to fix the barren landscape of nothingness behind Gay St and then we have “Business as usual” two blocks South where all the towers treat State St as the butt of Gay St and put all their garages there. This is unacceptable if we wish to have downtown expand any in the future.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Just to clarify, I think you meant “Buzz Goss” in reference to Marble Alley.

    • I could not agree more. We have created too many dead zones to put up with this. These tunnels of concrete will deaden our urban space for decades. That being said, I think the hotel is more good news for our awakening downtown. Please, just do it right, with livability as a key consideration. I just returned from Zaragoza, Spain, a city with no more people than Knoxville. But, you could not find a more different living environment. There are NO above ground parking garages in the urban core that I could see. Zero. And don’t tell me Spaniards have no cars. The streets are busy. The absence of above-ground garages makes for a very lively and attractive city.

  17. That Cumberland entrance to downtown is cringeworthy (parking garage, parking lot, empty lot, ugly backs of buildings). This would put another garage on the corner, but maybe the massive bulk of the hotel would distract the eyes of arriving visitors.

    • PS – I wonder if Cumberland between State and Gay could be narrowed from 3 lanes to 2 (or 1) to provide space for street trees? Anything to soften the blow of those brutal garages.

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

        I didn’t go into detail about the softening, but the surface of the wall to the garage is a different material and not a straight-line wall and there are trees, etc along Church, but I’m not sure about Cumberland. And you are right, we are continuing to construct garage corridors and that’s a concern to me. As I said, I feel mostly good about the project and hope it succeeds, but those are prices we are paying.

  18. Arthur B Carmichael III says

    “The Bistro” seems like a less-than-endearing name choice if they’d like it to appeal to locals since “The Bistro” is how most locals refer to “The Bistro at the Bijou” which is right around the corner.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It’s true. I thought of that, as well, particularly since it is right around the corner. That said, I think so much of this is fluid that certainly a year-and-a-half or two from now if this becomes a reality and that restaurant opens, it could have a completely different name.

      • It would not have a different name as “The Bistro” is a Courtyard brand standard. The Courtyard at Cedar Bluff and at Papermill both have them.

        • Arthur B Carmichael III says

          Here’s Nick Lakha’s response via my Facebook post on the same subject: “Point taken and duly noted. “The Bistro”, in name, is the current restaurant component and concept for Courtyard Marriott. We don’t mean to step on toes of the Bistro at the Bijou. I have eaten at The Bistro at The Bijou and its great. We will be very different from a style and menu standpoint and I don’t believe we’ll be competing directly at all. I will also look into to different naming options. Thanks for bringing it to light.” So, it sounds like, at least this franchisee, is willing to consider an alteration of the name, though, from D.J.’s comment below, it may not matter much either way.

          • Kristen Faerber says

            BTW, this comment wasn’t me. I usually comment as Kristen. And Art, thank you for bringing that to their attention. I thought the same thing.

    • Having stayed at numerous Courtyard Marriotts I think their in house restaurant is typically called the The Bistro. It is not what I would consider a destination restaurant but rather a convenience for hotel guests. Food has always been average to below average. I eat there for breakfast when I stay and maybe a sandwich for lunch but definitely not a dinner spot. Other than the name I don’t think anyone would confuse this with the Bistro at the Bijou. If non-guests actually ever went there to eat, I bet they would call it the Courtyard restaurant or something similar.

  19. Hope it happens. It’s been forever it feels like since we first heard of a new development for this site. Cheers to downtown becoming even grater.

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