Nineteen Story Apartment Building Planned for North Waterfront

3-D View of The T at Riverfront from an aerial perspective looking North

Word has been circulating for quite a while that a major development was planned for the north waterfront, just to the east (by twenty feet) of the Henley Bridge. I first mentioned the rumors and named the company, California-based Cogent Bay, Inc (this link was not working when I linked, but appears to be the correct address) over a year ago. They have teamed with Atlanta-based architects Gamble and Gamble and local architects (and architects of record), DIA, and Knoxville-based Blaine Construction to bring the project to fruition. Rick Blackburn of the Blackburn Group is acting as project coordinator.

The group first presented at a workshop with the Downtown Design Review Board in October of last year and purchased the land in question to proceed with the project at the same time. The site involved fronts Hill Avenue at the corner of Hill and Locust and proceeds down the bluff to Front Street and over to the edge of the Henley Bridge. They’ve subsequently met with various city entities and utilities honing the plan, the current version of which was presented in a workshop yesterday to the Downtown Design Review Board.

Vacant Land on Front Avenue, Knoxville, February 2017

Currently named “The T at Riverfront,” the project is in the schematic design phase, and it’s important to understand that details of the project may change from what is presented here, though the design is quickly approaching its final form. And the striking characteristic of the current form is that it is large. Whereas original plans called for 228 units, the current plan calls for 287 apartments in a nineteen floor development, with two retail spaces.

The building, which will have units facing the river and mountains and units facing downtown, will include 280,000 to 290,000 square feet of residential space. Also included will be about 90,000 square feet for amenities and necessities such as a pool, clubhouse, fitness center, study area, circulation, mechanical and trash. About 7,000 square feet will be devoted to retail and another 123,000 square feet to parking (229 parking spaces internal to the building).

3-D View of The T at Riverfront from the Perspective of the Henley Bridge

3-D View of The T at Riverfront over the Henley Bridge

The residential spaces, totaling 287 units, will include eighty-eight one bedroom homes, ninety-three two bedroom homes, thirty-two three bedroom homes and seventy-four four bedroom apartments.

Plans also call for landscape, lighting and sidewalk improvements along Hill, Locust and Front Streets. Locust will remain one-way and Front will become a one-way street, while Hill will continue to be two-way. The company has also purchased a strip of land on the other side of the Henley Bridge, presumably for purposes of re-configuring automotive access from Front to Henley, which will have to flow under the bridge. Garage entrances and exits will be found both on Hill and Front Streets.

While the building will be nineteen stories tall, it begins well below the grade of most of downtown, so it will not appear across the skyline to be quite as tall as its full height. Additionally, not all of the building is nineteen stories tall, with the end closest to Henley Street being shorter. At downtown’s grade, represented by Hill Avenue, it will be fourteen stories tall, making it approximately the height of the Bank of America Building on that end of downtown.

3-D View of The T at Riverfront from an aerial perspective looking North

The facade of the building is currently set to be brick, metal paneling and stucco. The building is designed to avoid sheer walls, with the mass reducing as it increases in height. The tallest portion is on the eastern side, the shortest beside the Henley Bridge. Balconies are also to be included throughout, giving the external appearance more interest.

The retail portion of the project is slated to fill two corners of the building. At the corner of Hill and Locust, 4,000 square feet of space on two floors will be available and the developers envision a restaurant in that location. In preparation for that possibility, the space will have built-in grease interceptors and venting for industrial hoods. Down the hill at the corner of Locust and Front, about 3,000 square feet of retail space will be available.

3-D View of The T at Riverfront from an aerial perspective over the Henley Bridge

3-D View of The T at Riverfront from an aerial perspective looking South

Moreso than in the previous version which, though large, was smaller than the current version, the building appears to target UT students, from the name to the large number of four bedroom units and the presence of “study areas. The committee questioned whether the amount of current and recently constructed student housing had been considered and the response was that a study had been performed to assess potential demand.

References were made to the idea that students would not all bring cars to school, but questions were raised about the ratio of parking spaces to apartments. Cars, in general, seemed to be the focus of most of the concern, with traffic patterns potentially altered significantly on Hill, in Maplehurst and on that end of Henley. City traffic engineering discussions are ongoing.

Aerial 3-D View of The T at Riverfront Including Surrounding Blocks

An issue for the current residences and buildings, as well as pedestrians on Hill Street is that of sight lines. Currently strolling down the street offers views of the river and those will be lost with the current design. When asked, lead architect Faris Eid basically said that it reflects an urban reality: Views change as building development progresses. It was noted that this particular project will result in a harsh shift for the owners and pedestrians on Hill from a river view to a view of the backside of the new building.

The owners, developers and architects will now take the input given and continue to work on their design and consult with various city departments. The design could change significantly or remain very much like what is shown here. The group will return to the Downtown Design Review Board when they feel ready to submit a final proposal. Rick Blackburn told me it is too early to project a start or finish date for the project.


  1. Please tell me this isn’t restricted to students. Please tell me this isn’t restricted to students. Please tell me this isn’t restricted to students.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      It is not restricted to students. It is not restricted to students. It is not restricted to students.

    • Not restricted, just heavily marketed towards them and likely to be inundated with them and everything that students bring with them.

      • That’s fine then. I don’t mind living near college students. I just know for a fact that there is way too much student housing, and it would be a terrible idea to have such a key piece of downtown property turned into student housing for spoiled brats with obscenely rich parents. Other than that, any tall building is good in my eyes.

  2. Ron Sharpe says

    In general, I’m a big booster of downtown development, but this building gets it wrong on too many levels. It’s too big for the lot, architecturally inappropriate for the surrounding neighborhood, creates both traffic and aesthetic problems, and no matter what their study indicates, student housing is being overbuilt. Go back to the drawing board and try again.

    • It’s a terrible, terrible idea from beginning to end. I would love for there to be a development in that location, but this is just wrong on thousands of levels.

  3. Downtown needs a decent grocery store, not another restaurant.

  4. As a former tenant of W. Hill Avenue, whose incredible view of the river would be lost, I cannot imagine a building this size working there. I will say that I’d bet you dollars to donuts that no foot traffic will flow down to a commercial space fronting Locust and Front St. Of course the thousands of residents added to this quiet corner of downtown will only have to ride elevators.

  5. I like it and hope it gets built like the images above.

  6. I think a shorter, more exclusive building would be more appealing and appropriate there. People like the riverfront for its views, not its buildings.

    I’m glad to see something is going in that space but I think the final building plan should have a smaller impact.

  7. I agree with Ron Sharpe and would hate to have this behemoth on the north side of the river. It is much too tall for riverside. Please, please, please, Knoxville, responsible and respectful development! You have been so good at it to date.

  8. As someone who owns two 4-br condos in the Woodlands, I can absolutely say that there is too much housing. We are no where near capacity – I don’t believe anyone is – and we just received an email asking if we would waive sign up fees to be more competitive. From a different standpoint, this is a terrible idea for such valuable and beautiful land. And will they be rentals?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      These will all be rentals.

    • I own a condo at the Woodlands, too, but I wouldn’t consider this to be competition. Either you want to lives miles (un-walkable miles) from campus in a larger space with a more open community OR you want to live downtown and most likely pay a much higher rent.

  9. Ha …I continue to be amazed by the out spoken ( non doers ) negative take on anything New contemplated in Knoxville…….

    In their mind the World is Flat………

    Knoxville desperately needs a dose of New…..New Leaderhip… New Blood …. New Thinking….


  10. It’s about time we had a tall development – This looks great. Build it!

  11. The taller the better. Increasing the population density will make downtown more pedestrian friendly, more likely to sustain everyday amenities such as grocery stores/pharmacies, and more attractive to retailers that rely on foot traffic.

    A tall building on the waterfront will increase — not decrease — the number of properties with views of the river.

  12. There’s a lot to not like about this project. To focus on just one issue that people like to harp on – parking. The project provides 229 parking spaces, about 30 of which are provided to visitors and retail parking. There are 667 bedrooms in the proposal. It’s likely true that not everyone who lives there would own a car, but I bet at least 75% of them would. Assuming only one person occupies each of those beds (unlikely), that would be 500 cars. While we do have a good bit of City provided parking, we have nowhere near the capacity to absorb so many cars and especially not on this end of town. This C-2 district does not require the developer to provide parking for their project. But it is pretty unconscionable to foist off the parking demand the project would create while the developers keep all of the profits. This project is too big for this site. There are also huge logistical difficulties to get in and out of that site due to the scale of surrounding streets and the changes in elevation. I’d really much rather see a more conscientious development from a local developer on this site. The high cost of the land is part of what is driving the scale of this development. They spent nearly $2.5M to acquire it. The scale also demands expensive building methods and materials. This is quite an expensive project and will be getting more so with each passing day. The cost of concrete and steel has been high for years now and with the new tariffs, steel will only be getting more expensive. I hope a development of this scale won’t be financially feasible. I’m not against development, but I’d like to see something else here.

    • Chris Eaker says

      Pony up the money and put whatever you want there.

      • I get to have an opinion even if I don’t have the money. I’m not a developer nor am I interested in being one. I am a downtown property owner and I pay all the CBID taxes, etc.

  13. It’s sad to read all the negative comments about the scale of this project. I agree that 19 stories are a bit extreme, but the only part of the entire building that is 19 stories from top to bottom is the middle core of the building at the intersection of the “T”. A bunch of people have already explained, correctly, that the scale of the project is dictated by the market conditions and the need to balance out the cost to build on this difficult and otherwise impossible site. Anything built at a smaller scale with only access to Front street is pretty much useless so the connection to Locust by itself will dictate a project at least comparable to the Riverfront Apartments, at a minimum, which would put us somewhere at 6 or 7 stories. The fact that the apartments were extended to be as tall as the nearby neighbors (Bank of America & Medical Arts Bldg) I don’t find to be a terrible thing because it is filling in the density of the space with similarly scaled buildings. The hard truth is that the Victorian era homes (which I love very dearly) are something we won’t be recreating in downtown without them being extremely high end to offset the cost. Think of any smaller scale project that’s developed in downtown in recent years and a majority of them are either a tenant in-fill or high end luxury condos/homes. Large-scale development is the only way to offset the real cost to construct in downtown Knoxville. If you want to be upset, then be made at Nashville & Atlanta’s insane construction markets making it difficult for all the medium-sized cities in TN and GA to build.
    I do agree with earlier comments about the retail at the lower levels not being a good location, but I assume the only reason why they are there is to try and maximize some sort of view to the river. I also really hope this doesn’t become a solely student housing oriented project, because I think it will be more successful if it doesn’t. This should be geared towards younger people, yes, but not the kind that are college-aged partiers that are often loud and destructive to a building. I also believe that this will be a popular place to rent for young millennials that want to be close to downtown, but also enjoy modern amenities. Excited to watch the design’s progress in the coming months.

  14. “When asked, lead architect Faris Eid basically said that (this design) reflects an urban reality: Views change as building development progresses.”

    Translation: “Money talks.” I’ve no horse in this race and I don’t think I’ve ever uttered a negative comment within this blog, but this concept is…(play nice, Larry)…unfortunate.

  15. The scale of this project is only an issue if the design is this busy. This may be the busiest design that any architect has ever proposed in downtown Knoxville, and it would dwarf what surrounds it. I think DIA unvealed this one too soon. One has a responsibility to the public realm when building tall, and especially when building a foreground building like this. This building needs to tone down its own chaos and adopt some order in its elevations. Imagine the following vantage with the above calamity dominating it:

    • Tim Lucas says

      I think it would be nice to see a third building rising tall on our skyline.

      • I don’t disagree. What I said is that height is only an issue if the facade is disturbingly busy, which this one is.

    • Your thoughts on this wonderful downtown development project are lacking in any forward-thinking for the city. Small Urban projects with no vision of the future is what has kept Knoxville from progressing as our sister cities of Chattanooga and Nashville. Why would it matter to any citizen the height of this outstanding project. This project will be a major component added to the Waterfront development and an incredible boost to the tax base. Remember, if you build it they will come.

      • Again, Mr. Roberts, I have no problem with building tall in Knoxville, but with height comes conspicuousness, and with conspicuousness comes responsibility to the city to create something visually ordered and well proportioned (which this proposal is currently lacking in its facades). That is why I say height is only an issue if the design of the facade is an eyesore (i.e. busy), because short eyesores do not blight the cityscape to as many vantages. And it is not a question of style either. One can be modern and orderly. Architectural firms like Sanders Pace, McCarty Holsaple McCarty, and even BarberMcMurry do this regularly in Knoxville, and so can DIA (and perhaps they will revise this proposal to clean it up). So I am quite forward-thinking in my concern here, because I am imagining myself looking at this building for the next 50 years.

  16. Chris Eaker says

    I’m glad to see something going in there. I’m not surprised to see all the Negative Nellies. You can’t please everyone. Either you want density downtown or your don’t. You can’t have it both ways. In reference to what one commenter said about this being such a valuable and beautiful property, why has it been vacant for as long as anyone here remembers? It’s obviously not that valuable and not that easy to build on, thus the scale. It has to work financially. I will say though that I’m glad I sold my student condo in Ft. Sanders. Rent prices are going down because of supply but the cost of the units haven’t yet. It isn’t a good investment anymore.

    • No, that’s not true. You can have more responsible density than this, and far better examples of mixed use. This has 7,000 sf retail vs 280,000 sf of residential. The property was vacant for so long because the people who owned it were just sitting on it forever waiting for the development around them to push up the land value. There were two parcels for sale for over $1M each. Not a lot of people can touch a property like that. They were asking more than was reasonable for difficult sites. They have finally gotten it, but only from out of state developers whose interests are to line their pockets, not improve our city.

  17. Sabrina Straub says

    This is great, I love the scale and height of the project. The more who live downtown, the better the business do, the more services, etc

  18. Interesting how everyone has switched the narrative on parking. That said, 1 space per 3 bedrooms is aggressive.

  19. Why are so many people scared of a little height? I’d say go big or go home. Let’s show a little progression here folks. Anyhow If we don’t want it Chattanooga or Nashville will definitely take it.

    • Tim Lucas says

      I agree – I’ve been excited to see more high-rise in this city since the Butcher Brother’s infamous glass towers.

      • It’s only going to be tall relative to the buildings it engulfs on that block. To those walking around downtown, it’s not going to appear any taller than the Bank of America building at Main & Locust. And that’s not a tall building.

    • I finally have someone who sees things my way! Knoxville definitely should start thinking bigger! ( AND TALLER! )

  20. We need more density downtown, not less. The design is perhaps overly busy, but I’ll be very happy to see this many beds added to our tiny downtown space. Bring it on!

  21. The Modern Gal says

    I’m all for density, and I hope something like this would work. I think it would be good use of a wonky lot. The parking does seem a little out of whack even for a location where people may choose not to have cars, and the only way I see retail working in this location is if its strongly geared toward the building’s residents OR offers a lot more visitor parking.

  22. While talking to someone about this article this morning something occurred to me that I thought I would share.
    Some of the commenters on this article have said that the design doesn’t have enough retail with only 7,000 listed as the current amount. I wanted to highlight other large mixed-use projects in Knoxville and show that this size, while low, is not something that is unusual for our city. The TENN, a 270,000 SF apartment/ student housing project on Cumberland, will have only 15,000 SF of retail. The Stockyards, an apartment building about to be constructed on Willow Avenue in the old city will have only 5,000 SF of retail for a building with 152 planned units. The massive Regas Square project on Depot is probably the most forward-thinking of all the downtown developments in terms of retail and mixed-use potential with around 20,000 SF +/- of retail that will be available.
    I’m just trying to say that 7,000 SF of retail in a building that will be located in an otherwise untested part of the downtown retail market is actually ambitious. Would I like it to be more? Yes.. but I think 7,000 SF is not bad considering all retail nearby has suffered in recent years. We also JUST finished reading an article on this website about how retail is not doing too hot downtown.

    • There is also a backlog of available retail sites in much better locations downtown. Some of these may already be under development, but just for example:

      – The former site of Rita’s on Market Sq.
      – The former site of Barre Belle in the 100 Block
      – The former site of Nest (as of yesterday)
      – Numerous properties on the 700 block
      – The building by O.P. Jenkins (Summit HIll and State)
      – The retail spaces on the Jackson viaduct that have closed, hopefully temporarily, for construction
      – Several storefronts by Awaken on Jackson?
      – The ground floor of the Kress building?

      Still others are under utilized by law offices, rental company offices, and others that would likely convert to retail spaces if demand was high enough.

  23. I think this has the makings of a nice project. Increased density is important for continued growth and development of our downtown. And part of that is increased height. I think we all have to recognize that this is an early schematic design. Moving forward it will continue to develop. There are questions about bed to parking ratio. I trust that the developer has done or will do his due diligence on the parking counts moving forward. I am glad to see the inclusion of retail space and believe that, given its location, 7,000 SF is in the right ball park, maybe even ambitious. I am also glad to see ambition in terms of height. The team is clearly working to articulate the volume and to break down the scale. Moving forward I hope (and expect) to see further refinement and development of the facade. There are some nice broad brush moves in what we see. I hope to see more clarity as they develop. And I truly hope that developer is committed to delivering a quality project and will not cheapen out at the end or we might end up with a repeat of Evolve. The original sketches for Evolve on the Strip were quite nice. There was nice massing and texture variation. But what was built was a far cry from what was originally proposed.

  24. right down my alley, literally. My neighborhood changed from an eclectic mix to heavy on college students. I very much miss the mix.

  25. Another Fort Sanders? didn’t we learn nothing from the “the Fort “experience? I love the idea of keeping Downtown Knoxville growing and moving forward but do we need 650 students populating that small area? Can that small area sustain that? Those kids will be walking to Cumberland avenue to party and not spending any money Downtown bars or restaurants ….. sad that a developer from California is dictating who our Downtown grows, kind of the same story when Turkey Creek was developed and killed beautiful neighborhoods like South and East Knoxville in the name of progress…

  26. If we want more diversity and public engagement downtown we should build housing that is marketed towards a variety of our citizens. Affordable units with resident focused retail sounds great… but then I heard the same old UT student marketing idea and zzzzz…….

    Knoxville has been moving forward in many ways. Knoxville is NOT UT. Knoxville is a city with a lot going for it and to stick our foot into the student housing market is a mistake. Buildings for Knoxvillians and not UT are needed, particularly in downtown.

    I’m not opposing housing or density on that site. I’m concerned about the current unrealistic parking and traffic plans.

    I see no greenspace in this drawing. Knoxville would do well to require a certain amount of greenspace in developments in scenic areas. Perhaps they could bump it back from the bridge a few welcoming meters and give our visitors a nicer south to north entry to our city than a huge student dorm.

  27. This is going to look amazing!

  28. And just like every other proposed project in Knoxville, it comes to a screeching halt. Never to be talked about again.

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