As downtown Knoxville and related development expands in every direction, new spots constantly emerge, whether new side streets, entirely different areas or sections of a street that had been previously quiet. Elastic Pictures has been a part of downtown for years, though their most recent location, in the basement of the JFG building, allowed them to keep a low profile. Having outgrown that space and desiring to own their building, owners Brian Ford and Dominic Moore have purchased the old Aggregates USA, LLC building at 2216 W. Blount Avenue.
Renovations recently began on the 13,700 square foot building which will be developed as demand dictates. The first phase includes development of a common entry space, a common meeting room for any businesses housed in the building and, particularly, the 4,000 square feet devoted to their own company. Currently home to ten employees in 1,250 square feet, the new space will allow the company to more efficiently execute their business and to expand. They hope to double the size of their workforce.
Expanding the workforce, as it turns out, isn’t easy in their business. Most of the people with the skills they would need are in L.A. (and that’s not Lower Alabama, where I come from) and New York City. They’ve had success with graduates of ETSU and Pellissippi State, giving them the training they need after they are hired. Sometimes they are successful recruiting from larger cities because of the attractiveness of Knoxville’s cost of living and proximity to the mountains.
Brian started the post-production and animation company in 2004 at a time when the kind of work they do had to be outsourced to companies in Atlanta and other cities. It didn’t make for developing relationships, something Brian says is critical to what they do, saying, “The relationship we have with clients turns to retention and referrals. He grew up in Knoxville, graduated from UT with a broadcast journalism degree and worked for a local company for about six years producing reality television content.
Elastic Pictures, among other things, produces content for advertising agencies on behalf of their clients. Sometimes they develop the content from an idea and sometimes it comes to them more formed and they do the execution. They also do post production work for a wide range of companies. Sometimes the clients are surprising, such as recently, when they were contracted to do work for the Dubai Aquarium which had seen their product online and was impressed. Increasingly they are also involved in developing games, apps and virtual reality experiences for clients. They summed it up by saying, “If it can be done on a computer, we can do it.”
Starting the company was a leap for him, but it started with one client who offered him a contract and he never looked back. Dominic interject that the thing both he and Brian had in common when they came on board is that they each took that plunge when their families were about to expand. They each knew there would never be a time it would feel safer to take the risk.
Dominic, born in London, lived in New Zealand where he met his future wife who, as fate would have it, was from Knoxville, Tennessee. The couple moved to Knoxville for about nine years before giving London a try for about a year-and-a-half. Deciding London might be a better place to visit than to attempt to afford the cost of living, and missing Knoxville, they returned about two years ago. His focus is on the animation component of the company, though he worked in advertising in London. He originally joined Brian in 2007 after having worked together previously and returned upon his return from London.
The company started in the basement of the Ely building on Church Avenue, which is currently being converted to a personal residence. In 2006 they moved into a building owned by Jack O’Hanlon on the 300 block of Gay Street, adjacent to Theatre Knoxville Downtown. After a year in that location, David Dewhirst showed them their current location in the JFG building and offered to build it out to their needs. It has served them well and each of them expressed the great relationship they have had with Dewhirst Properties, they need room to grow – and room for clients to park nearby.
The new location will offer them the chance to do more of the production work on site, as well as post-production. They hope to fill the building with “complimentary creative companies,” and to that end they are designing the building with shared studio, recording and meeting spaces. The building also includes an internal dock which will allow heavy equipment, such as lighting, to be delivered as needed for projects. The parking issue was resolved with the purchase of two nearby parcels which will give them room for forty-three spaces.
The building, which looked rough when they first spotted it, was really what they were looking for. Dominic said, “We could see the potential – that’s what we do for a living.” They’d looked in several directions, including out Central Street toward Happy Holler, but felt this was the right spot. They hope to encourage others to join them in re-building the “other” end of Blount Avenue. The eastern end, which becomes Sevier Avenue is already host to a number of new businesses.
The building is about a twenty-five minute walk from downtown (and that included climbing a small mountain to get around a barricade on Blount at the construction of the new student housing units). It would be an easy ten-minute or less bike ride. Any question as to whether the location is a part of downtown is pretty much removed by the views from their entrance: Thompson-Boling arena looms in one direction and the sky line of the city in another.
They completed the purchase in September and hope to move in by April, at which time they will turn their attention to developing the additional space. One client is seriously looking and others have inquired about the remaining 9,700 square feet of available space. They have applied for a facade grant and have some great designs for an awning, planters, lattice-work and other touches to soften the front of the building. Preston Farabow is cooking up some cool ideas to that end.
The two expressed their excitement about pioneering a part of the city which hasn’t seen much development to this point. They hope others will follow to their side of Blount Avenue. Brian said he often visits New York City, having family in New Jersey, but he loves Knoxville and hopes the company can be a part of its resurgence.