An Update on Riverwalk at the Bridges (The Baptist Hospital Site)

Rendering of “Riverwalk by the Bridges”

It’s been a long and winding road to the ultimate development of the Baptist Hospital site. As far as I can determine, I first mentioned it on the blog in an April, 2014 article looking at the hospital’s past and present. That article references a Josh Flory article from June, 2013 which announced the first version of the plans. That article is gone and so are many of the original plans. An Inside of Knoxville reader, Stephen Harris, helped write a piece in September detailing his vision for the south waterfront and I included a number of pictures of the demolition in the article. I wrote about the first updated version in November, 2014, though it’s evolved since then.

In October, 2015 the news about the site centered around the purchase of the office building on the east end of the site next to the Gay Street Bridge by Regal Entertainment for their corporate headquarters. It represented a significant change for the site, as that building had been slated for hotel development. Many of you raised questions about the deal and I followed, in November 2015, with an article looking at specifics of the deal and a conversation with Vic Mills, founder and CEO of Southeastern Development Associates (SEDA).

That was over a year ago.  By the schedule he’d hoped for in the last article, the construction would have been completed by now. We have seen much of the rubble cleared, a parking deck erected and support columns raised on the site.  It seemed a good time for an update.

Riverwalk at the Bridges, Blount Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

Riverwalk at the Bridges, Blount Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

Mr. Mills told me that some things have remained roughly the same. Student apartments are still planned and are under construction on the western side of the Henley Bridge, for example, and should be available for the beginning of the 2018 school year. That said, his company is no longer involved in that project, having sold it off.

The number of apartments planned on the main site has shifted around a bit, but, at 315 units, that is similar to the original numbers announced. Still included is a, “20,000 SF event terrace and a 1,600 foot Riverwalk which fronts the Tennessee River.” Mr. Mills told me plans include a public elevator and steps connecting this 1600 feet of Riverwalk to the portion the city has already completed to the west of the Henley Bridge. Continuing the path closer to the waterfront proved problematic.

Riverwalk at the Bridges, Blount Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

Riverwalk at the Bridges, Blount Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

He says the “parking deck is complete,” and that the crews should, “finish the pilings and pedestals in the next few weeks.” Saying that the project, “at this stage is more predictable,” he estimated an occupancy date of the first quarter of 2018. Asked about retail on the main site (the project page still lists it), he said there would be a very small retail portion near the Regal Headquarters building.

The most interesting news regards the use of the property across the street, which the company owns, from the parking garage (which will be shared by Regal employees, residents and the public) through to Chapman Highway. You may have noticed the demolition of the old hotel near the corner of Blount and Chapman. That emptied spot and the former office building beside it represent the next design and development phase.

Riverwalk at the Bridges, Blount Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

Riverwalk at the Bridges, Blount Avenue, Knoxville, January 2017

A 90 to 100 room hotel at the corner of Blount and Chapman is an almost certainty, though Mr. Mills declined to name, “the flag,” at this time. He also said a restaurant is planned for the corner and he’s been in talks with interested parties locally. The office building that is standing could become a second hotel or it may be developed as condos or apartments. Noting that in any case it would need a, “new skin,” the plans there are, obviously, more fluid.

So, that’s the latest. Three projects from the original one and all seem to be making significant progress. The Regal Building had workers removing or replacing windows when I walked past and the outside of that building is transforming. We’re closing in on four years since Josh Flory’s first article and that’s a long time, but the end really does seem to be in sight. It’s a good lesson in patience regarding other projects which seem to take longer than expected. Good things are happening, they just don’t always happen on our timeline.

Comments

  1. 5 years is a long time. They must have the most patient investors ever.

    I imagine someone calling them all excited about renting an apartment when the project was announced. Since then they could’ve had a kid that is about ready to start school.

    Still hopeful they’ll kill the kudzu on the riverside cliff.

    • Oh, and what happened to the outside-the-box idea to turn the kudzu covered cliff into a waterfall? Now that was a wild but interesting idea!

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

        I don’t know that it was ever more than a person’s idea. If it has gained any serious traction, I haven’t heard about it.

  2. Thanks for the update. We walk by there frequently and have often talked about the slow pace. As you said, slow progress is better than no progress. Is it just me or do projects, public or private, seem to take much longer here than in other places?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Not sure how it compares to other places, but most seem to take way longer than initially anticipated.

  3. Which office building is potentially being turned into a hotel? Not Baptist Eye, surely? That would take even more health care away from South Knox…

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Nothing is settled, but it is the office building directly across Blount from the hospital site. It was a medical building, but I’m not sure how occupied it is at this point.

  4. Am I the only one here that thinks that this project has much better potential than is being realized? I could see one part of the complex being condos and another section being apts rather than all apts. Also, the river side could have a larger promenade area with a restaurant that would perhaps be the envy of any restaurant downtown with an overlook/patio area that would take in a “complete” downtown view. Imagine connecting the new park on the southside to the river walk and eventually over to the “railroad” bridge, which could be turned into a pedestrian/bicycle walkway to the University and the World’s Fair Park. The city should be working with the complex developers to make this a reality rather than another “student” housing project….

    • Downtown Worker says

      Agreed. I think much of the riverfront area is vastly under-used and under-appreciated. Who doesn’t love riverfront shopping and dining? Savannah and San Antonio immediately come to mind. Why we have any unused space facing the river is beyond me.

      • That would be beneficial to the city by expanding the downtown core. I am still somewhat concerned about “blank” spaces in downtown. The TVA tower (possibly for lease/sale), the space (AmSouth-1st American building) across from the Pot Belly sandwich shop, (which is perhaps one of the more important non-discussed intersections downtown) and the intersection of Summit and Gay, (which is the missing link between Market Square and the Old City). These spaces need activity, which may not come from the usual tenants, i.e. restaurants.

        Has anyone ever thought about splitting up the City/County building? There probably will never be a unified govt. in Knox and such a “break-up” could encourage additional growth in the downtown area by moving Knoxville city workers to an area that needs simulation and give the “Knox County governmental district”, the courthouse and City/County building additional room to renovate and revamp. Just a few thoughts to encourage discussion.

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          All good thoughts.

          • I think the last one isn’t that great of an idea. The additional cost alone and the hindrance to the free flow of communication between city and county are huge drawbacks to the idea.

          • It would be an additional cost, agreed. I suppose that the idea that I was trying to get across is that almost all govt. offices are clustered in that area, (Main St.), and that moving some govt. workers may increase further development and encourage more of those workers to move downtown. It is a dead area of town at night and could use additional retail or more activity.

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

            The ULI went out of their way to point this problem out even though it wasn’t an area they were asked to examine.

      • What if we took Neyland down to two lanes and used the other two lanes as a whole new corridor for activity, commerce, and public space? Is that a horrible idea?

        • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

          No. That is a fantastic idea. It is an idea that should be executed. But the 8 Saturdays a year it is needed will prevent our city from realizing the potential of this amazing asset. At least that’s my opinion. I’ll clarify if you’d like. 🙂

  5. The newest rendering on their website certainly seems to have eliminated much of the green space and park that they had originally put into the plan. I had thought that there were agreements with the city about providing commercial space and park space. That seems to be disappearing.

    http://www.southeastern.company/portfolio/knoxville-riverwalk-bridges-2/

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It’s a bit confusing because there are different renderings. The one I posted is on the website and is the same as the one previous. I know for certain that the terraced park between the building and the bridge remains.

  6. I think you said Regal bought the east corner but in fact we, the ever generous City of Knoxville taxpayers, I believe are the owners ? It is sad that the original plans said there would be lots of retail and eating places but now it is just more student housing ?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Ultimately Regal will buy it, but you are right, there is an interim. Student housing is only on the western side of the bridge, but you are correct that retail was eliminated from the original design.

      • Personally, I think further east on the south waterfront, like Sevier avenue, could be a great retail center. There are already great shops opening up that way (Uncle Lem’s) and possibly the last remaining old buildings downtown left to renovate. The industrial sites for sale would be prime locations to build new buildings to fill in the spaces and make it more like a city block, and I think it would be a great spot for destination retail in the area (without quite as many restaurants and bars. People have only just begun to realize the potential of Sevier Avenue, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the area explode in growth in five years or less.

        • That’s in the south waterfront plan, and as you point out, is already happening. Alliance Brewery brings out lots of folks every night and a coffee shop is opening soon.

  7. If only we could have more projects like the marble alley lofts, that project seem to go up overnight. I agree projects around here seem to take insanely long. What about the hotel planned on the sentinel site??? wasn’t that announced back in 2012 or something. I really believe that this site is missing out on a lot of potential, wouldn’t it be amazing to see a couple high rise condo towers overlooking the river and shops with outdoor food court overlooking the river and a pedestrian bridge linking the two river fronts…. but then i guess this is Knoxville…wishful thinking:)

    • There is a planned pedestrian bridge across the river

    • Not exactly. That project took about a year longer than originally anticipated just to begin filling ANY units and another 8 months to finish up (until phase 2–which is now a full 2 years behind).

  8. I don’t know about you but I am somewhat concerned about all of these hotels being planned. I don’t like the idea of the Sentinel hotel site although that site is in need of something. I also believe that since Gay St. is still the main business corridor of the city that the Chamber of Commerce, (incubators?) and a few other visible businesses should be on Gay as business visitors (potential relocators), to our area will visit that street first.

    I am also interested in the fact that no one has ever considered building a TVA museum. Many visitors passing through the area (going to the Smokies), may be intrigued by a “gadgets” museum (working models of our dams, electric grid, historic economic development), etc. It might be a nice complement to the Women’s Basketball museum and provide an additional reason for visitors to stop off in downtown and have lunch/dinner and spend money. While I am at it on this tourist topic, we really need to “light” the Sunsphere at night. It is a perhaps the most distinctive symbol of the city and should be given its due.

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