Even in the Quietest Parts of Downtown . . .

KGIS Map of the neighborhood surrounding Riverhouse, Knoxville, Februrary 2017


KGIS Map of the neighborhood surrounding Riverhouse, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking only at the shiniest, most exciting or prominent projects. It’s hard to miss the big things happening, such as the old KUB/new Tombras building, the Marriott Hotel construction on State and Church, the Pryor Brown Garage, the Regas Square project. All of them are pushing the envelope on downtown development. Sometimes the quiet corners are missed. And sometimes they are pretty active.

The short 600 block of Hill Avenue is one of those spots. Most easily accessed via Locust Street, abutting Henley, shoved right at the end of the bridge, with most of the rest of the length of Hill all the way to Gay being consumed by the City County Building complex, it’s easy to forget this little gem of downtown. And it’s not as sleepy a spot as you might imagine. Things are happening.

Mary Boyce Temple House, 623 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, Februrary 2017
Mary Boyce Temple House, 623 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

The building most discussed in recent years is the Mary Boyce Temple House, built in 1907. When I first wrote about it, nearly four years ago, Brian Pittman was in the process of returning it to its glory after a very sordid interlude. The house could easily have been torn down if not for his dogged determination. The rich irony of saving the home is that its namesake, Mary Boyce Temple, was, in her day, instrumental in preserving Blount Mansion, which had fallen on hard times.

Now beautifully restored, the home at 623 W. Hill is a showcase and the only inhabited single-family home built specifically for that purpose downtown. It joins Kendrick Place as the only historic structures built as homes and serving that purpose today in the downtown area. Adjacent to it is a small building, set back from the street and also lovingly preserved by Brian.

Built in 1946, it was built as a duplex as a part of the Aston Motor Court, which at that time included a sub-divided Mary Boyce Temple House, letting rooms for the night to travelers headed to the Great Smoky Mountains. After the motel closed, the house and the duplex became apartments. The smaller building is now a single-family home.

The Former Lord Lindsey, 615 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

The other building many long-term Knoxville residents will remember, is the building which housed the former Lord Lindsey at 615 W. Hill. Constructed in 1903, and once owned by Kristopher Kendrick, the property was sold in 2010 to settle his estate, for $550,000. Unlike many downtown properties, it’s not found its use in the new era of downtown development. A singular and unique building, in the right hands and with the proper use it can be a spectacular part of downtown, once again. Currently listed by Cappiello Real Estate (865-247-7809), the building is listed for $1.25 million for purchase or $10,000 per month for lease.

Across the street from these properties, on the south side of Hill Avenue, three buildings face the ones just described. On the corner of Henley and Hill, facing the Mary Boyce Temple House from 618 W. Hill, is a beige, rambling building housing the law offices of Hogan and Hogan. It boasts one of the sweetest decks in the city with a view of the mountains, overlooking the river and with a front-seat view of the fireworks.

618 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017
616 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Adjacent to that building, at 616 W. Hill is a former single-family residence built in 1930. Subdivided into offices for years, it was recently purchased by Kevin and Melinda Grimac and is being updated and refurbished. Two clients will enter the space as of March 1. Suite 100 will be the new home to GEI Consultants, Inc., “One of the nation’s leading geotechnical, environmental, water resources, and ecological science and engineering firms.”

While “mid-sized and employee owned, they have supported “35,000 projects in 50 states and 22 countries.” Of their new location, they said, “Our new Knoxville office allows us to better service our clients in the region and will be led by Hank Julian and Patrick Massey. Hank and Patrick both have significant expertise and experience in all aspects of civil and environmental engineering, groundwater modeling, surface water modeling, water resources and hydro-geology.

Best Behavior Creative Club, which I profiled in December 2015, will move into suite 200. Most recently maintaining offices at the Knoxville Office Suites in the Arcade Building, the group has seen explosive growth requiring a larger space. Chris McAdoo, owner of the business, told me of the move, “We’re excited to take on more branding, web, and multimedia projects – and we’re especially happy that we get to stay downtown as we do it. The new location will be home base for our team and will serve as studio and recording space for upcoming podcasts and other original content. AND our all new blog kicks off this coming Monday, February 27th with “21 Days of Best Behavior.” You can hear more from Chris this Sunday morning on Knoxcentric: Powered by Inside of Knoxville at 10:00 AM on WUTK, 90.3 when he’ll be my guest on the weekly radio show.

Historic Riverhouse, 614 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017
Historic Riverhouse, 614 W. Hill Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Finally, Historic Riverhouse, located next door at 614 W. Hill, is one of the prettiest, relatively unknown downtown buildings. Constructed as an apartment building in 1929 with an unusual (for our city) flat roof Spanish Colonial Revival style, the fifteen units were purchased by Kristopher Kendrick in 1987 at which time he selected its current name. Over the years, more units came under individual ownership and an HOA was formed. John Sanders owned seven units at one point, six of which he purchased from Kristopher and five of which he sold just last year, giving the building probably the largest number of owners in its history.

Vacant Land on Front Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Finally, it takes a little exploration, but a tract of land directly behind (to the south) of this neighborhood is being offered for sale by Goldman Partners Realty (865-247-7809). You might think the bluff falls directly to Neyland Drive but, in fact, a small shelf of land sits between the neighborhood and the river, with access provided by a one-lane paved remnant of Knoxville’s Front Avenue, which, as you might be able to strain your eyes on the map included to see, used to be the closest road to the river. It actually intersects with Broadway in the edge of Maplehurst. I’d never realized either road remained.

Vacant Land on Front Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017
Intersection of Front Avenue and Broadway, Knoxville, Februrary 2017

You might think this spit of land not large enough for significant development, but I spoke to Steve Goldman who told me the property has, “been under contract for months,” to an “out of state” group of investors he did not identify. Word elsewhere is that the group in question is California-based Cogent Bay, Inc., though I was not able to confirm that. Their site does indicate they are in pre-development for “luxury Knoxville apartments” providing “300 units for students.” That’s a large building, which would sit just to the east of the Henley Bridge overlooking the river.

So, a semi-hidden, small piece of the downtown landscape has some pretty intense activity happening in early 2017. Major changes are at hand for downtown in every direction. It’s important to track them as we very quickly set a course for the next decades in our small urban enclave.