Pryor Brown Garage: From Potential Rubble to Vibrant Landmark

Rick Dover at the Press Conference for the Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church, Knoxville, June 2016

Rick Dover at the Press Conference for the Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church, Knoxville, June 2016

This is the way preservation stories are supposed to end in 2016. Gone should be the days when historic or simply solid and usable buildings are destroyed when they could have another life. But we know those days are not gone. Preservation isn’t a single battle to be won; it’s a series of battles that cross generations, often being fought repeatedly over the same property. This is one day and one battle that ended well.

In June of 2013 I wrote that demolition had been requested for the Pryor Brown Garage. In September of 2014 demolition in favor of a full block of surface parking seemed eminent and I wrote a farewell piece to the garage. You can go to the second article to see additional photographs I took that day. Happily, I can report that I was wrong to have assumed nothing could be done. Through the good will and hard work of a number of people, the garage will be spared. Behind the scenes during this time Mayor Rogero, Kim Trent of Knox Heritage, Kelly Conley, a member of the family who owns the property, and Rick Dover have worked to find a way to save the building.

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014-2

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014-3

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014-4

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Rick Dover has overseen the redevelopment of Oakwood School and is currently underway with projects in the old Knoxville High School and the Farragut Hotel. He’s taken on some very difficult projects and, in some respects this one will be equally as difficult. Mayor Rogero made clear the city and an outside agency must approve the financing requests for the project to happen. Still, given yesterday’s big announcement, all concerned groups must be very confident they can make it happen.

It was time for good spirits all around as the plans for the building were announced. Mayor Rogero said, “This has been worried over for years and much debated . . . but this is a time of reflection on previous eras of demolition.” She pointed out how impressed Louisville’s mayor was on a recent visit as he viewed our downtown buildings which have been preserved, though she acknowledged those which have been lost. She said the way this issue has been worked through should serve, “as a model for a lot of property owners in our city.” She ended by acknowledging the hurdles that remain.

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Inside Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Mr. Dover is proposing a $9,000,000 private investment and expressed interest in an overlay for the building which would preserve it in perpetuity. He said he plans to restore the facade, as much as possible, to its original appearance. The roof will have to be removed and replaced. Ramps will be removed and the openings closed in order to extend each floor which – fortunately for the redevelopment – are flat. An elevator will be placed in the center of the building and he is considering options, like an atrium, to provide additional light.

The plan calls for thirty residences in the upper floors and retail on both Market and Church. The residences would be apartments, initially, due to financing constraints, but he indicated that ultimately he sees them being converted to individually owned homes. The retail spaces will be reconfigured on the inside of the building and, in fact, have been demolished. Parking will be provided inside the building for residents and some of the retail spaces will have to be smaller to accommodate that. Storage for residents will also be included at the basement level and a rooftop deck will be available for their use, as well.

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014-1

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014-3

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014-4

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

The private investment is a joint investment from the Conley family and Dover Development, but all development decisions and management of the property fall to the development group. The public investment will come in the form of tax increment financing (TIF), payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and historic tax credits. The value of the TIF request is around $2.7 million.

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

View from Pryor Brown Garage, Knoxville, September 2014

Mr. Dover said his group is “ready to go” as soon as approvals are given by the respective bodies. Some work has already been completed inside the 4 1/2 story, 76,000 square foot building and he estimated the project would take twelve months to complete, giving it a completion date very close to that of the Farragut, depending on how much time passes before they can begin this project in earnest.

I spoke briefly with Kelly Conley who represented the family in both the negotiations and at the press conference. Noting it had been a year in the making, she said the said the time has been intense, but she is very grateful to be working with Rick Dover. Interestingly, they met at Oakwood Senior Living when Kelly moved her mother into the facility. She said she was taken by what had been done to a building which nearly fell in on itself and, coincidentally, Rick Dover happened to be present. The relationship has grown and she has great confidence in his vision for the building. Interestingly, she expressed hope that this development might lead to further development on the surface lot that surrounds it.

Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church, Knoxville, June 2016

Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church, Knoxville, June 2016

And so, the next phase of approvals and applications for various portions of the needed financing, begins. As you can see from the photographs of the view from the upper floors, the location is prime. The parking, storage and rooftop deck make it more appealing. And the thick concrete structure should prevent any sound from passing between floors. It’s a good day for Knoxville and for preservation. More battles will be fought, but one of the two most important and endangered buildings remaining in the center city has, apparently, been saved.

Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church, Knoxville, June 2016

Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church, Knoxville, June 2016

Programming notes for the day:

  • I will interview Scott and Bernadette West in front of a live audience this afternoon at 17 Market Square in the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center. Meet and greet starts at 4:30 and the interview should begin around 5:00 PM. You are invited to be an audience member and you’ll have a chance to ask questions at the end.
  • As of this weekend I will start my summer schedule of publication. My current plan is to publish articles Monday, Wednesday and Friday, plus the Ten Day Planner on Sundays. The schedule may vary if needed, but this allows me a little flexibility for the summer and a chance to relax a little during the week.

Comments

  1. John McNair says:

    I hope they have reasonable prices. This looks quite appealing to me as far as location, history and timing.

  2. Love it! A win for our city on many levels.

  3. This is very welcome news. We live nearby and walk by the garage constantly. It’s been quite sad to see it fall into disrepair and potentially be torn down. I certainly hope the financial/business case is a viable one when presented for TIF evaluation. As with the proposed hotel on the old News-Sentinel site, we are now seeing more complex projects come into play, whether due to the underlying geology, state of the structure involved, etc. It’s great that folks are stepping up to take on these risks and hopefully successfully add to downtown’s quality of life and amenities. If I can dream big for a moment, it would be great to see a real urban grocery in that ground floor business section!

    • Yeah I’ve recently learned that a surprising amount of people don’t want these big projects happening. I can’t imagine why. They’re only doing good for the city.

      • I would speculate that the objections are several-fold (all not inherently true, to be clear). First there is the perception that developers or private individuals are getting “free government money”. Second is the belief that “the market” will handle all of these things, even if it means the building falls down (e.g., the market didn’t value it enough to do anything). Finally, there is the all-purpose “anything the government is involved in goes badly” approach. Again, I don’t believe any of these are true in every case, particularly in preserving historic buildings which is not a normal business situation. Like it or not, here in East TN, these opinions are not uncommon. The antidote is to evaluate proposals with a critical eye toward success, return on investment, and such, and I think the city is doing their best to do so. Can things still go poorly despite that approach? Certainly so, but the probability seems less likely barring a change in the larger environment, such as the economy taking a plunge for the worse.

        • Yeah. I’d be willing to bet that these same people are the same cranky old f*cks who want Trump to be president.

  4. Michael says:

    Now let’s hope the TIF application passes the muster of UniCap, the third-party vetting organization which has been selected to objectively evaluate projects requesting development incentives. I hope so.

  5. No renderings?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      As far as I know they haven’t made it that far. I’ll pass them along when it gets to that point.

  6. Chris Eaker says:

    Glad to see this. I’m curious though about how it went from the Conleys wanting to demolish it to this. What changed their minds? Did they want to save it all along, but saw no way to do that? Weren’t there developers wanting to do something with it for a few years, but the family didn’t want to do it? I’m just wondering if we should really thank the Conleys for being such great preservationists when it seems like they weren’t really into it until now. What changed?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      The same thoughts ran through my mind yesterday. I don’t know, so I can only guess. I think there are different parts to the family. Notable in his absence was Mike Conley who owns the building. Kelly is his wife and, I assume, the one who was intent on working something out. Clearly, no one was interested in saying anything negative yesterday. There is definitely an unwritten portion of this story.

      • Dorothy Bowles says:

        The KNS quotes Kelly Conley: “That whole block is in a trust for our children, so it’s taken awhile to get it taken out of that and freed up,” she said. “I want them to have something they can be proud of.”

        • Chris Eaker says:

          I wonder if they’d be interested in selling off the parking lots now to a developer. I’m sure some developer would love to develop those surface lots.

  7. Good to hear. Pushes downtown residential a little towards the south side, too.

  8. Great news!

    The big open spaces on the first floor would be a good place for Knoxville’s first ping pong nightclub, although I bet others are envisioning the elusive grocery store.

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