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.
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.
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.
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.
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.