Dispute Threatens to Derail Preservation and Development of Pryor Brown

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

The trail to this point is a long one. For those of you who may have missed, or don’t remember the earlier developments, I’ll recap. Pryor Brown Garage is a building located on the corner of Church Avenue and Market Street. According to my best memory of an unfortunately lost article by Jack Neely in Metro Pulse, the building is over 100 years old and may be the second oldest parking garage in the country.

I first wrote about the building in March, 2013 when the owners of the building, Royal Properties (Mike Conley, principal), requested $300,000 from CBID to repair the roof and help to do other improvements to the building they insisted was an important historical asset. Ultimately, that request was rejected as the CBID board felt the building was in poor shape due to negligence of the owners who had held the building for over fifteen years.

By June of 2013, I reported that Royal Properties had requested permission for demolition with plans to have the entire city block (they own the whole block, which is dominated by surface parking) be relegated to surface parking. Unlike two months earlier when the building was, according to them, a treasure, it was now a hazard that must be removed. They mentioned vague plans for a tower on the site, “when it becomes economically feasible.”

Pryor Brown Garage, Market and Church Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Later that month the last ditch effort to slow the request failed at the Downtown Design Review Board. Still, it was not torn down and it was March of 2014 when the Metropolitan Planning Commission seemed to acknowledge (after some legal wrangling) that they had no authority to stop a demolition or prevent more surface parking. All seemed at an end. In September of 2014 I wrote a farewell to the garage as demolition finally seemed to be at hand.

But what followed was two years of rumors and speculation as frantic attempts were made behind the scenes by Mayor Rogero, Knox Heritage and others to work out a deal to save the building. After nearly two years, a joyous press conference was held in June of 2016 in which the announcement was made that Royal had reached an agreement with Dover Development to save the building. In January of this year I gave readers a first look at design plans for The Residences at Pryor Brown. In April an ad was taken out on this site promoting the project.

But all was not going well between the parties involved.

I learned late last week that Royal Properties has sued Dover Development in Chancery Court to dissolve Pryor Brown, LLC, the entity formed to represent their partnership in the redevelopment of the building. They contend that the terms of the agreement, officially signed in August of 2016, have not been met and should be rendered void.

Royal says that the building, which they owned prior to the agreement, was placed into joint ownership of Dover Development (60% voting rights, 50% ownership) and Royal (40% voting rights, 50% ownership) based on assurances from Dover Development that the building redevelopment was financially viable. The value of the building, according to the suit was listed at $2,250,000.

Preliminary Design Drawings of The Residences at Pryor Brown, Church and Market Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Preliminary Design Drawings of The Residences at Pryor Brown, Church and Market Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Preliminary Design Drawings of The Residences at Pryor Brown, Church and Market Street, Knoxville, January 2017

The suit contends that once the transfer of ownership was made that estimated costs of the project, originally stated to be about $6,000,000, began rising and were quoted by Rick Dover at various times to range as high as $17,000,000. By this spring, according to the suit, he, “advised Royal that $14,500,000 was the lowest cost possible, and that the redevelopment of the building was no economically attractive to him personally at that projected cost.” By June, the suit states, “he was continuing to investigate the project and was doing structural work (and) . . . advised Kelly Conley that it may be time . . . to figure out how to unravel the proposed transaction.”

Within a few weeks, the suit alleges, “Dover demanded that Royal either purchase his 50% interest in the LLC for $789,000, or sell Royal’s 50% interest to him at that price. Dover failed to address Royal’s capital contribution of $2,250,000 for the the building, and the agreement that Royal would receive $2,250,000 from the project under all circumstances.”

Their contention is that, given recent statements about cost and viability, Royal was falsely induced into the agreement and that the agreement, therefore, should be voided. They also want damages for the delays and for his use of their building as a staging ground for his other projects, as well as up to $1,000,000 punitive damages.

Rendering by David Denton of a potential redevelopment of Pryor Brown Garage

I reached out to Dover Development for a statement and received a response from Mike Cohen speaking for the company:

We remain excited about restoring the historic Pryor Brown Garage, and preserving its wonderful history. We have completed the mixed-use architectural design, the initial construction bids and the financing is secured. When all this is resolved we still hope to be able to preserve and redevelop Pryor Brown.

So, according to Dover Development, there is still hope for this special building to be preserved. The family’s plans for the building, should the Pryor Brown, LLC be dissolved, are unclear. Given the narrative surrounding this building prior to this agreement, it would seem prospects for the preservation of the building would be tenuous. The best hope for preservation may lie with the ability of Royal and Dover to come to terms and continue their joint effort in order to preserve a piece of our community’s history.


  1. My take away from this story is that TIFs and PILOTs are still absolutely needed to make difficult renovation projects work. This project received an incentive and it’s still in no way a slam dunk. In voting for council members and eventually county commissioners, I would encourage everyone to learn more about each candidate’s position on incentives for downtown and its environs.

  2. As questionable of a character that our local Donald Trump (reference to the many iterations of the wall) may be, anything is better than a surface parking lot. It must be a simple existence, to be as blissfully unaware of their surroundings as Royal Properties is. This isn’t the 80’s. There is absolutely no excuse for more surface lots downtown. Let’s hope he’s able to develop the property.

  3. Oren Yarbrough says:

    As a blanket statement I must say that the people who write the negative comments on here are very lucky Alan doesn’t require you to link this to your Facebook account or display your actual name; I imagine the volume of criticism would drop off rather quickly if this were to occur. Also, remember that even if you are “anonymous” on this feed that Alan knows who you are. I ask that people remain respectful of this blog and the work Alan puts into it by not using his platform to muckrake about other citizens in our community. Let’s follow the good old saying “If you have nothing nice to say, it’s better to say nothing at all”.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I’ll piggy-back on Oren’s comment to make one of my own. From the earliest time I started writing this blog over seven years ago, I’ve worked to develop a place where we can disagree, but do so agreeably. I feel I’ve allowed too many comments to slide recently which are simply negative for negativity’s sake and do not add to the conversation. To simply say someone is a bad person in whatever way doesn’t really expand our understanding of the topic or the person. If you have a concrete example of an interaction with that person that illustrates your point and you want to identify yourself, that’s very different. I’ve always hated the comments on the News Sentinel in which people judged others harshly without having any real knowledge of their situation. I don’t want us to be that. In this situation, characterizing one party or the other in whatever manner isn’t likely to help with what I see as the ultimate goal: Getting the building redeveloped. I’d rather think we’d want to encourage both parties to set aside their differences and get this done. They are the best hope.

      • I’m sorry I wasn’t specific in my disdain for Rick and his company. I think how he treated the owners of French Market was abominable. There are comments from the owners on a past article saying that he was going to offer them less than $30,000 for the entire business. In addition to lying to the public about wanting to keep them in the building, calling health and building inspectors an extremely frequent amount, and the wall to try to hide the business from the public and make them lose business (which is extremely childish,) that is what did it for me. That’s not even enough for two of their employees’ salaries, and offering them that low of an amount to close a ten year old business on Downtown Knoxville’s busiest street is the most vile, insulting slap in the face I’ve ever heard a developer do to one of their tenants.

        • Oh. And no public admission of wrongdoing and/or apology.

          • That was a tenant/landlord dispute. They happen. You heard one side and we made a deliberate decision not to talk about the dispute. What we did was settle it with both sides ending up happy.

  4. Elliott Biondo says:

    Let’s say Pryor Brown is too expensive to be revitalized. Is the only other option really a surface lot? Marble Alley, Regas, and Stockyard were/are all ground-up projects. This is a great piece of real estate and I would hope that putting it to a more vibrant use would be economically viable.

  5. Oren Yarbrough says:

    Knoxville has so much potential and I love seeing all the growth and expansion in action, both downtown and in the immediate areas surrounding. I see so much potential for the parking lot beside the Pryor Brown and hope this project moves forward so the momentum of development in the Southern portions of the downtown continues. About a year ago Jack Neely wrote a fascinating article about the historical significance of the 700 Block of Gay Street in the founding of the state of Tennessee. Wouldn’t it be an amazing thought to turn a portion of that block, specifically at the intersection closest to Church Street, a park or plaza with a grand marker and historical background information about the founding of the state and the Tennessee State Convention. The fact that this block is the location where actual founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson & Benjamin Franklin stood and witnessed our state being signed into existence is so significant I am dumbfounded the city or state hasn’t invested in preserving it for history. Knoxville is missing a very valuable opportunity to play up and brand itself as the “First Capital of Tennessee” or “Birthplace of Tennessee”. We should have a nice educational tool built as part of a landscape at this intersection to draw in tourists. The remaining block can be mixed use and possibly house some satellite extension of the Visit Knoxville office with bike rentals and walking tour info. See attached for the article Jack wrote about the missing seal that use to mark this historic location. http://knoxvillehistoryproject.org/2016/02/03/the-birthplace-of-tennessee-a-missing-plaque-and-a-mystery/

    • Oren Yarbrough says:

      Ignore my reference to Benjamin Franklin above. Benjamin Franklin was already dead by the time the Tennessee Constitutional Convention began. Thomas Jefferson, however, is directly quoted as to referring to the first draft of the Tennessee State Constitution as being the “least imperfect and most republican of the state constitutions”.

  6. Spider-Man wears a hood.

    • And so does Batman. But those guys are the exception.

      And, for the record, I am a Spidey guy way more than Batman, although my oldest son disagrees.

  7. The city needs more shops, cafes, street foods, educational places (be it for teaching dance, music, art, etc) anything and everything if it wants to compete with creating its own identity and have it actually be sustainable. Sure some places won’t make it but that doesn’t make it a failure. Relying on overflow from Gatlinburg and Pidgeon Forge shouldn’t be a success, it should be the other way around. People day trip to those places while they are in Knoxville. We are doing well with certain restaraunts and bars, but there needs to be a wider range of areas that people will consider going to in our small downtown area. We have a fairly reliant public transit in the trolley that can get you anywhere quickly and even better walking is a non issue bc it is such a small downtown. Use those things to your advantage! Once Kerns is done, send one over there and then loop down to alliance, by Suttrees landing and then back to the 700 block of Gay. The lot behind the Pryor garage is already an eyesore in what could be a beautiful area. I wish so badly that it could be torn out and replaced with a mixed use park, or at the very least sized down and with a park added. Maybe even a trolley hub that sends people down the newly renovated Cumberland Ave. It would be nice to have a central station of sorts. People always complain about parking but there are plenty of garages that are under utilized bc “nothing is around them.” Most cities don’t have ample parking in the immediate downtown area, we are just lazy. I see so much potential in Knoxville, I truly hope it does one day blossom into the quaint city tucked away in a valley between beautiful mountains that it should be.

  8. Patty Magnee says:

    I hope things get worked put, to where it can be saved

  9. God I hope it doesn’t become another surface lot. That’s the last thing we need is more suburban parking. Leave it to Dover to screw things up.

    • This is Mike Cohen and I represent Dover Development. Anonymous, if you want to say things like that, how about saying who you are? Easy to toss barbs when you stay hidden. Dover has won the highest award given nationally for his Alexander Inn projecdt in Oak Ridge, was named Knox Heritage Preservationist of the Year in part for his work at Oakwood School. Knox High is nearing completion. The Farragut Building will open in months as a Hyatt. We’ve stabilized old South High and will turn it into senior living. He has a hell of a track record. Feel free to call me at 659-4750 or email me at mike@cohencommunicationsgroup.com to talk about some facts. Or who you are

      • Dover Development deserves to be applauded not castigated. They are making an enormous positive impact on downtown redevelopment. I suspect that if Prior Brown becomes an abominable surface lot it will be due to the decision of Royal Properties.

      • Six felonies and owing $19.6 million in restitution, $509,000 in back taxes and a $284 million civil judgment is a “hell of a track record.”

        • One project Rick did got caught up the S&L financial issue. At a time when every bank in Houston failed. Rick fought the government for 20 years and finally settled just to put it behind him. You would be hard pressed to find a bank, builder, architect, historic preservationist or others to say a bad word about him. He personally paid everybody who worked on that project–the actual workmen. A problem like that would destroy a lot of people. It made Rick stronger and more determined. He made no secret of it….told me about it before we shook hands on my representing him.

      • Another anonymous says:

        Perhaps anonymous has worked with or been a consultant with Dover in the past.

        • My point is this: if you are going to say things about people, good or bad, you say who you are. Or you can write anonymously, like a Klansman wearing a hood. I call that cowardice.

          • Yeah right, like I’m going to give my personal information out to someone who “represents” someone with as much debt as he has. “There’s lawyers down here”

          • “Anonymous” perhaps you can be extra transparent by providing your social security number………

      • Shannon Kelley says:

        I agree Mike. Mr. Dover has been a real boon for this city. We’re lucky to have him.

        Anonymous, you either believe in redemption or you don’t. If you have something to say, you should put your name on it.

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