An Update on the Kerns Building and Site

Rendering of the Proposed Kerns Restaurant and Entertainment District

Rendering of the Proposed Kerns Restaurant and Entertainment District

It’s been over 2 1/2 years since we took a tour of the Kern’s Bakery Building with then owner David Dewhirst. Multiple plans were being considered and the ideas were fluid. The building and site had been purchased months earlier and the building offered boundless possibilities. Facade work and clearing the interior of large industrial machinery followed and this past fall Dewhirst Properties sold the building to Oliver Smith Realty and Auction Company.

As 2018 gets underway, plans are advancing rapidly and Mr. Smith, along with Peter Medlyn, Director of Sales, agreed to give me a tour a look at their plans for the parcel which has been rebranded as The Kerns (no apostrophe appears in most of the material provided) Restaurant and Entertainment District. And the plans are very ambitious, with the real possibility of igniting the area for redevelopment. Rather than viewing the property as a building, they see it as a district or distinct area which also includes a residential component. To think of similar developments, you might reference the Chelsea Food Market in New York City or the Ponce City Market in Atlanta.

Kerns Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

The property includes not only the 1931 building with 60,000 – 70,000 square feet of available space (the previous article said 80,000, but a temporary portion of the building has been removed), but it also includes fifteen acres. The property features a connection via rail line to Sevier Avenue and the development there, along with the Urban Wilderness. In addition to the large flat acreage on Chapman Highway, a bluff overlooking it all is also included.

It’s just around the corner from Riverwalk at the Bridges and the new Regal headquarters and within sight of the Henley Bridge. Mr. Smith pointed out that, “it is the largest single amount of retail space in one place, anywhere downtown.” It’s also a south Knoxville icon – perhaps the most recognizable building in that section of the city. Given all that, the site begs for an ambitious plan.

Rendering of the Kerns Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Rendering of the Kerns Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Rendering of the Kerns Building, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Renderings of the Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Renderings of the Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Much of the space in the building – about 70 to 80% – is already accounted for by letters of intent from business owners. A large restaurant has committed to the front, southern end of the building. To the rear of the restaurant will be parking and the primary entrance into the bulk of  the building. The entry on that south side will be via a large outdoor common area adjacent to a projected 500 parking spaces.

Once inside the building, a spacious corridor will include, “over 9600 square feet of community interior space including bathrooms and seating pods . . .” The proposed floor plan included here is fluid and will depend on the needs of the tenants. As you can see from my photographs of the space, it is largely open and may be configured as needed. Additionally, a space to the rear of the building, which is actually a very cool quonset hut, is awaiting further engineering analysis and may or may not be suitable for development.

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Kerns Building Interior, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

The building also includes about 3,000 square feet of potential residential space on the second story and a large space beneath the building is also available for tenant use. One portion of the building may or may not be opened up for further outdoor space and an inset portion of the building will include a beer garden on the exterior.

To the south and the east of the current building new construction is planned. A restaurant will be built facing Chapman Highway alongside the current building and, as required, it will be built to complement the architecture of the historic building. Above the current building and planned restaurant, along the bluff included in the property, plans call for 100 or more “loft apartments.” Mr. Smith explained that these would be built with an urban feel that fits the downtown area.

 

Along the northern edge of the property is, perhaps, its most intriguing feature: A rail line which Mr. Oliver says is currently unused. Plans include a walking/cycling trail alongside the tracks, but Mr. Smith admits he’s excited about the possibility of having local rail service that would make a loop from south Knoxville to downtown and back. He excitedly talked about current technology in light rail, though he acknowledged all that is just a dream at this point.

Aerial View of the Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

Aerial View of the Kerns Building Site, 2110 Chapman Highway, Knoxville, March 2018

It’s all part of a bigger picture of development advancing rapidly in all directions emanating out from downtown, as the labeled area map shows. It’s hard to say which development out of the hundreds of millions currently being spent or planned for the near future will have the most impact. Collective impact is most important, of course, but for south Knoxville, this project, coming on the heels of the Riverwalk at the Bridges, is certain to have a powerful economic impact on south Knoxville and should spur further development.

The timeline on the project is difficult to predict at this point, as engineering and architectural studies are proceeding. It’s likely to move rapidly once the plans and approvals have been determined and granted. I suspect we might check in again a time or two as it progresses.

Comments

  1. Thats great! Just wish the city would get the lights fixed on the henley street bridge.

  2. Sharon Rhinehart says:

    You could put a overhead fixture like Vegas or make it look like Grand Central.

  3. Amy Garland says:

    What a great thing to bring to Knoxville! Nashville has Marathon Village and Atlanta has the King Plow Arts Center, now we will have the south east trifecta all within 3 hours of each other! How exciting!

  4. Barbara says:

    My Dad’s old business, Bondurant Brothers, 605 Sevier Ave has a rail-side loading dock on that rail. The building is huge, with enormous wholesale storage on rail level and below ground level, in addition to street level also enormous open area & 6-7 private offices. Could the 2 be linked by that rail & provide parking as well as other possibilities for S Knox economic opportunity? Daddy’s bldg is built like a fortress!! Had several public Mtgs there when I was on Council. It is next door to the historic old grocery across from elementary school.

  5. jackie england says:

    something needs to be done with all the houses down the hill from kerns. it will be a nice setting but then imagine looking toward the river and the view isnt so grand. a missed opportunity for the riverfront development. i own a property and am sad to say keeping the property up has become a burden as i no longer live there. renters just destroy the property and move on.

  6. Carol Goodnight says:

    Hello, until the train materializes Potter, how ’bout them trolleys,eh?

  7. There’s a lot of irony in the caption on the site plan:

    “The parking field for The Kerns, shown above is one feature which sets it apart from similar downtown redevelopment projects. With over 500 surface park­ing spaces our tenants will have no problems ensuring that parking will not be an issue for their guests and employees. This also bypasses the need to “park and walk” faced by many commercial developments in the downtown area.”

    So it’s a suburban development in an area that should be increasingly more urban…. there’s nothing urban about wrapping buildings in surface parking.

    The references to Chelsea Market and/or Ponce City Market are lost on me unless the point is they’re wanting to say they’re trying to do a food hall with some office space?

    There’s a missed opportunity to address Chapman Highway as a pedestrian connection to Downtown Knoxville and the Riverwalk areas. The new-construction restaurant proposed on the south end of the site is surrounded in a field of parking as well. They didn’t even attempt to make it have an urban presence.

    The residential portion should also feel more incorporated as part of the development – right now the site plan just places them up against the bluff because the parking field demands so much space on the site as well. There’s a lost opportunity to create a “place” where all the components can have more synergy because they’ve prioritized convenient surface parking over anything else while “designing” the site plan.

    • Oren Yarbrough says:

      ^^^ THIS ^^^ .. I very much agree with Tyler on the fact that it’s questionable the development is trying to sell a massive surface lot as a plus for potential tenants. There are two big garages within walking distance that could provide parking for after hours business that the bars and restaurants would need during peak hours. If the project has 100 units of apartments then you’d naturally want a space for each of those units plus enough for overflow and employees of the Kerns Building, so I could see the project having maybe 250 to 300 immediate spaces. Make everyone else walk or bike from nearby. If the sites surrounding the Kerns are going to be developed to be an experiential space like Ponce City Market then people will gladly walk from elsewhere. Every time I have gone to visit PCM I have had to park off site and walk. It’s a fact Millenials are quite accepting of as long as the views are nice and they feel safe. Another great idea is to treat the parking like a future commodity by building a larger than necessary parking structure and make it a pay garage for any of the surrounding sites but provide free parking with validation at the businesses in the Kerns. This would allow the sites next door to be built out without the concern of where parking will go. The previously mentioned hotel that has been proposed at the corner of Blount and Chapman could have off-site valet and use the garage for a set fee, thus paying for the garage in the long term. Thanks for sharing on this Alan! The thought of the light rail is very exciting to hear a developer mention and I am very happy this building is getting a new life.

      • I’m not sure about light rail. I do know there has been talk about the “rails to trails” approach to his track. Of course part of the challenge with the nearby structured parking is that it and the Kerns property are not co-owned. I would think the riverfront lot is built to support the development and housing going on that site without a lot of extra. But Oren would know better than I on any design issue.

        • I had thought those tracks were planned to be turned into greenway (they are the unused tracks that loop through the Ijams area). Maybe it was just a proposal. If that’s done it would connect Ijams (Will Skelton, etc) and the Dickerson area, and could serve as a connector to the planned pedestrian bridge that would cross the river at Scottish Pike to Neyland, and to the Mary Vestal greenway. I think it would be a more logical purpose than hosting some sort of light rail.

          Here’s an article that makes me assume they were talking about these rail tracks:

          https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/2017/09/04/smoky-mountain-railway-trail-expected-finally-completed/575874001/

          …but maybe I’m misinterpreting which sections of rail that article discusses.

          • AnInterestedObserver says:

            I think that you are correct in assuming that a greenway/bikeway/walkway connecting the Southside with U.T. would be beneficial. I do think that the city should be working with U.T. and the eco-foundation to make it happen. However, I am not sure that such a bridge that far west will be good, (Thompson Boling).

            One of those abandoned railroad bridges could be used (Henley). It might be more cost-effective and attract more U.T. students/faculty/staff to those apartments without the need to encouraging more auto-transport to campus and decreasing the need for additional garages that detract from the appearance of the campus. I know that the mayor has indicated that there are greater priorities now but this (closer) connection might be the additional jumpstart that is needed for this area.

  8. Nancy Roberson says:

    Is this the same railroad line that goes behind Allied Toyota and River’s Edge Apts., then on to Mead’s Quarry?
    I ,also, hear another brewery is being built in the old lithograph building on Island Home Ave, down from TrailHead Bar (former Jim’s Place). Lots of beer in SoKno.

    • Stewart Smith says:

      The Print Shop Brewery is nearing completion. Isn’t the rail line part of the planned rails and trails project? If so that will be an excellent connection.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I’m not completely sure about the track. I plan to walk it when the weather is nice just to see for myself. I’m sure there are maps, but it will be more fun my way. 🙂

      • that would be trespassing. There are many businesses being sued by the Railroads due to violating of charter rights. Bearden, Powell, Central Avenue. Don’t think the Holston has been doing this. Wonder what their title policy says in re the Charter rights of the railroad.

  9. This all looks great! I can’t wait to see what businesses decide to come here! My only concern is the 500 surface spaces. Couldn’t a multi-story garage be built instead, leaving more surface area for even more development on the property?

    • Jeremy…it’s probably economics. Structured parking can run up to $40k a space. And in a development like this, is generally free so making back the money from it is really hard. My guess would be you do surface…if there is ever enough demand for the space then you build a structure in the future and free up the space. When a development is starting, like this one, you are looking at years of expense without a penny coming in. You do structured parking where you need to, but not if you can avoid it.

      • Makes enough sense. I just despise surface lots downtown. A: They mostly all used to be tall, beautiful buildings and B: they all could be in the future.

        • Just a thought… I don’t have any statistics to substantiate this claim, but with most automobile companies shifting their focus to automation, it’s been postulated that individual car ownership will be less frequent or necessary in 10-15 years. I would be reluctant to build additional parking garages (where surface lots can meet needs), because it will simply encourage individual drivers rather than incentivising bikers / walkers. Ultimately, all of our parking garages will require creative re-use (Pryor Brown anyone?), so I think it’s worth considering as we discuss projects that may not be a reality for years down the road. So excited about this project – thanks for keeping us in the loop, Alan!

          • Honestly the thought of that is ridiculous to me. Self driving cars are cool, but I like my freedom, love driving wherever I want to go, and will always own a car. Even if it is self driving. Those articles saying car ownership will just magically disappear in a short time frame are nothing but hype.

          • Self-driving cars will be a reality in 10 years and people – even the ones that will move forward while kicking and screaming – will want them. However, don’t look for autonomous vehicles to create a fewer-cars-on-the-road situation. There will be fewer drivers, not fewer vehicles,

    • Al Lapins says:

      Good idea! Too much surface parking destroys urban ambience. A parking ramp would provide adequate space for cars parking and might give the space that would create a mini-Market Square area south of the River.

      • @Heidi. I’m not saying I don’t WANT a self driving car. I’m saying quite the opposite actually. I like having control with getting places on time, rather than waiting for my ride to show up and expecting it to only go one way and do the speed limit. I’d be 30 minutes late to everything.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.