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.”
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.
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.