French Market and Dover Development At Odds

Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)
Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)

I’d heard the relationship wasn’t going well, but Monday night when Allen Tate, co-owner of the French Market Creperies, took to Twitter and Facebook to air complaints directed at Dover Development, the controversy blew into the open and ignited a debate on social media that soon spilled onto local mainstream media. Tate via French Market social media accounts posted: “It’s happening! Our Landlord & the new Hyatt are trying to force us out of business and cancel our longterm lease without compensation!”

The charges were later reiterated via an interview with WATE. They reported that he feels his landlord is trying to force him out and the wall which has  been built in front of the business is hurting the business – perhaps by design. He stated that he was “told by the landlord it was for safety,” but wasn’t told for how long.

Saying that he felt they were being “intimidated” to get out, he noted a conversation he’d had in which he understood the company wants to put a Starbucks in the location. The lease, initially for five years with two renewal options is currently in the third year of its first renewal, meaning the tenant, assuming they meet the terms of the agreement, can exercise an option which would run through 2023.

The television interview did not repeat charges made earlier on social media that inspections were triggered by Dover in order to find the business out of compliance. Codes inspections found nothing major. On Tuesday the allegations continued via Facebook, with Tate re-stating that Rick Dover had called for inspections and chosen not to built less obtrusive safety protection, concluding, “Our landlord is one that is stuck with a tenant and lease they do not like or want but have no choice at this time.”

I spoke with Rick Dover in an effort to determine his plans for the space and to get his perspective. He started by assuring me that he plans to honor the lease assuming its terms are respected and pointed out that Hyatt has no concern about the space one way or another. He said he has not requested increased scrutiny for the business, but rather pointed out that the building is constantly filled with inspectors in a way which was never the case when the French Market existed alone in the ten story building. Now everything about the building is under scrutiny due to the new project.

Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)
Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)

Regarding the wall which has been erected in front of the business, he reiterated what Mr. Tate said he’d been told: It is for safety. Work is beginning on the terracotta and other portions of the facade and care must be taken that brick or other debris doesn’t fall on passersby or customers of the French Market. What has been the patio space of the French Market is not, he said, a part of the lease and will soon, of necessity be filled with scaffolding.

Additionally, a replica of the historic canopy will be installed at some point and that will require work in front of the building. He hopes the work on the exterior will be done within thirty days, but he said he can’t be certain until the job begins.

As for the allegation that a Starbucks is planned for the space, there appears to be a misunderstanding. Dover said the project will include a Starbucks, but that will be located on the opposite side of the lobby entrance from the French Market. He said if the French Market left he would pursue another retail tenant as none of his plans include the space.

Dover acknowledges conversations have been difficult between the parties. He says he has been a customer at the French Market for years and feels it is a downtown asset.  Saying, “I’m sure it has been unsettling,” and while he regrets that, he says there is no way to avoid inconvenience for the business. He pointed out that he has a building to develop and he’ll have to do that the best way he is able to get it done.

I later spoke to Allen Tate and asked about the statements Rick Dover had made. Regarding Starbucks, he pointed out that will be direct competition due to the coffee drinks and pastries they each sell. He said, “We’re excited to have the hotel, . . . and we bring 7,000 to 10,000 customers a month to this location and they will be exposed to the hotel when they come.” He questioned why a landlord would bring a competitor to the same building, continuing to insist that Rick Dover does not want them in the building.

He also pointed out that the cost of relocating would be $175,000 to $200,000 in addition to the lost revenue during the change. He rattled off a list of downtown locations that he’d checked only to find they aren’t available or aren’t going to be ready for sometime. He said given enough money he would move, but that would mean leaving downtown at least for the short-run, something he doesn’t want to do.

Calling the business “pioneering” when it started, he says he has no interest in starting again in a lesser-developed, difficult area. Continuing to insist he feels Rick doesn’t want the business and has made it clear in numerous ways, he said he was in development in south Florida for many years and knows there are ways to make a business feel welcome even during a difficult period. Clearly he feels the opposite has happened in this case.

French Market, Knoxville, Late Summer, 2012
French Market, Knoxville, Late Summer, 2012

It’s a conflict that we’re likely to see play out elsewhere around downtown. An increasing pace of development in a relatively small geographic area is a recipe for clashes in the needs of the various people involved. Businesses such as the French Market are focused on selling their product while developers are focused on the next project. Even with the best intentions on the part of everyone, tension is likely. Add KUB’s upgrades and the city’s various streetscape projects (bricks, coincidentally, are being replaced in front of the business at the same time as the other issues) and communication is likely to be difficult at times.

Since business and development are essential for each other, it is incumbent on all parties involved to communicate as clearly as possible in order to avoid as many issues as they are able. I love the French Market and think Susan and Allen do a great job. I also greatly appreciate the fact that Dover Development has taken on some of our most difficult and improbable rehabs. I hope both parties can deal honorably with each other to resolve the current issues in a way that is helpful to each.