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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.