The Proposed “T at Riverfront” Grows from Nineteen Stories to Twenty-Six

Original Proposal for The T at Riverfront on the Left, Most Recent Design on the Right, July 2018

Is the skyscraper back in vogue? If the current version of the proposed “T at Riverfront,” is constructed, it would be the second tallest building (by stories) in the city behind the First Tennessee Plaza. Its base, however, would be down the bluff from the main elevation of downtown and, so, it would not tower as high as might be expected.

I first reported on the proposed building last April when the group, which includes Gamble and Gamble architects out of Atlanta, Cogent Bay investors out of California, local DIA architects, Blaine Construction and Rick Blackburn as project manager, presented to the Downtown Design Review Board for a second time.

Original Proposal for The T at Riverfront on the Left, Most Recent Design on the Right, July 2018 (View from Hill Avenue)

Original Proposal for The T at Riverfront on the Left, Most Recent Design on the Right, July 2018

Subsequent to that meeting, the group purchased the property on the bluff between Hill Avenue and Front Avenue. They’ve also continued to refine and shift the proposed building design in response to expense and to suggestions from the review board. The result – and the current rendition of the building – is strikingly different. It’s important to note it could change further in the coming months.

The images provided mostly show the contrast from the previous design on the left, to the new design on the right. The most obvious shift is that the building grew by seven stories to an eye-popping twenty-six stories. That said, there are fewer apartments (267 versus 287 before). There are more beds, meaning there are more high-number (four) bedroom apartments.

Original Proposal for The T at Riverfront on the Left, Most Recent Design on the Right, July 2018

Original Proposal for The T at Riverfront on the Left, Most Recent Design on the Right, July 2018

Height is only one metric, however, of the changes in design. The entire parking garage has been moved out of the tower and will be an adjacent, separate structure. Parking spaces have been increased to 298. Amenities for residents, including a work-out facility and pool will be located on top of the parking garage. The front and back sides of the garage are slated to have vertical gardens of sort in order to soften the visual impact of massive sheer walls. The garage will be six stories tall and will be adjacent to the Henley Bridge (fifteen feet away).

With the mass of the building shifted to the east, some portion of the views from Hill Avenue will be retained, meaning the existing properties won’t entirely lose their connection to the river, though lower floors would likely have no view. For Hill Avenue, the impact also includes an expanded retail space (now 5,000 square feet) on the corner of Hill and Locust and the previous entrance and exit to the garage on Hill has been eliminated and all ingress and egress from the garage will be along Front Avenue, which will become one-way (west).

Proposed materials for The T at Riverfront, Knoxville, July 2018

View of Proposed Retail Space on Hill Avenue, The T at Riverfront, Knoxville, July 2018

Sidewalks will be rebuilt and expanded on all sides of the building, including along Locust. Also, the power lines along Locust will be buried to be consistent with the vast majority of downtown. Hill will still have above-ground power lines. The building will rise nineteen stories from Hill Avenue and above the brick base of the building will be steel, concrete and stucco. 4,000 square feet of retail will be retained on Front Street.

Some questions remain and Mike Gamble, of Gamble and Gamble Architects suggested they are aware of them and continuing to work on issues like providing parking to support the retail space, as well as providing easy pedestrian access. Faris Eid, of DIA, said the work with traffic engineers had taken a lesser emphasis while the building was re-designed, but they are prepared to re-engage them at this point. The chief question remaining there is how that many cars will exit via Front Street, which leads to Old Broadway in the Maplehurst neighborhood just on the other side of the bridge.

Most Recent Design for the T at Riverfront, July 2018

Most Recent Design for the T at Riverfront, July 2018

The response to the new design was largely positive. Concerns were expressed that perhaps the building could engage the public more – a rooftop restaurant was mentioned. Design critiques included not having the tall white striations on the garage and the lack of an identifiable “top” to the building, which just seems to stop in mid air.

In conclusion, Mr. Gamble suggested the group will be back in short order with additional changes and more information. This meeting was a workshop designed for give-and-take between the board and those involved in the project. A more formal request for approval of the project will come at a subsequent meeting.

Comments

  1. Love it!! Finally something more than 5 or 10 stories. Hope it happens.

  2. If this goes through it’s going to make living in Maplehurst a real pain. Several times a year Poplar St is closed for what I assume is utility work, so the only other ways out of Maplehurst:

    1. Going down the narrow Front Ave. and making a three point turn onto Neyland Dr, or

    2. Henley St, but you can only turn right onto the bridge so unless you’re headed south you have to cross and river and back.

    In fact, there have been times where both Poplar and Front were closed, and traffic was backed up on the bridge so you felt pretty much trapped. Going to be a bigger headache when this place opens up. The other poster had a great point about the lack of parking, it’s already cutthroat for parking in this area as it is.

  3. If I blink will this go away? 30 yr. resident of dear Maplehurst Park.

  4. Just for conversation . . . I wish the developer was pursuing an entirely different project type on this site. It is a challenging site to be sure, but there are other possibilities. The same developer and the same Atlanta architect are currently working on this development in East Atlanta. https://atlanta.curbed.com/2018/1/23/16921236/east-atlanta-village-modern-townhomes-be-at-home
    A similar type of project could be done on this site in Knoxville. There could be multi-story townhomes that step up the hillside. There could be a mews in the center for resident entry/exit from Locust Street. One section of town homes (maybe 4-5 stories) could face onto Front Avenue. And another section of town homes could face onto the mews with their backs to the existing buildings on Hill Avenue. It would be a much friendlier use and density for the existing residents (though they are few) in this end of downtown. Whether or not we need additional high-end residential for sale in downtown is another discussion. Though it is probably more “needed” than more student housing.

    Having said all that, this iteration of the project type they are doing is much better than the previous versions. It is friendlier to the existing residents on Hill. Having a parking garage face the river is unfortunate. These are some of the best river views in the city and they will be occupied by cars. I am pleased they will have a planted “green screen” on the faces of the parking garage. I hope that of the 9,000 sf of retail space they have, that a restaurant would take the square footage along Front Avenue so that there would be a new option for (almost) riverfront dining. The logistics of parking for this structure will still be a nightmare for the people who live there. The only way out of the parking garage is passing underneath Henley Street Bridge on Front Avenue and into the Maplehurst neighborhood, coming out at Poplar Street onto Cumberland next to Church Street United Methodist (although if headed to south Knoxville, they would be able to turn right onto the Henley Street Bridge from W Hill Avenue on the west side of Henley, on the other side of the church). This is nearly a “you can’t get there from here” sort of situation, but it would mostly affect those who choose to live there, plus the people who live in Maplehurst (because of the increased traffic). Pain in the ass, regardless. Getting 300 cars in and out of the site will be a challenge. BUT, there are 800 bedrooms. Where are the other 500 cars going to go? Most of the people who live there are going to have a car. Even if only 75% of the number of beds have a car, that’s 600 cars, leaving 300 to find somewhere else to park. Does this put the burden on the City to provide parking that the developer is not providing? This is an externality local tax-payers will be paying for. The adjacent Main Avenue garage (behind the Bank of America building) holds 475 cars and is already at full capacity during most of the business day. I would love to see financials associated with the project presented. But it is private development on private property and of course there’s no reason they have to provide them. I would feel a lot better if it were explained to me WHY it has to be this type of project to viable on this site. I still hope it doesn’t happen. Steel and concrete get more expensive every day. This project is now a cast-in-place concrete construction rather than steel because the cost of steel has gotten so high. That will mean a slower construction schedule.

    • Kristen’s observations are worthy of consideration. While it may make sense for the project to be medium rise instead of town homes, there are major concerns that still need to be addressed. Parking, vehicular access and river views don’t seem to be satisfactorily addressed in the current proposal. We don’t currently have adequate design guidelines for downtown (or for other major corridors and planned redevelopment areas), and it shows.

      Vancouver, BC is an example of a city that values it’s water and mountain views enough to regulate them by establishing view corridors. That prevents monolithic developments from creating “view barriers” so that only those buildings at the periphery can offer the good views. In this case, blocking the river view of others entirely, while not taking maximum advantage of it in the project itself (garage, etc.) will be a sad loss if allowed to happen.

  5. Will there be another public input meeting soon or a way for folks to give their input/concerns as mere citizens? I have a lot of concerns but always miss these meetings (mainly because they are often at some inconvenient time for normal working people, like 4pm on a Tuesday).

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      The Downtown Design Review Board meets the third Wednesday of each month at 4:00 PM. You might have input directly to them via their website, if you wish.

      • Kristen says:

        Technically there have not been any public input meetings. This was the third Downtown Design Review Board workshop. The workshops are not part of the DDRB business meeting. They are open to the public but there is no public comment period. They are intended for the DDRB and developer to “have a dialog” about the project as it progresses. If you want to make comments, you can send them to Mike Reynolds at MPC. He can share comments with the board and developer.

        • Thanks for the heads up, Kristen!
          I wonder what the benefit is (I say this sarcastically) of allowing the public to come during the design process but not give input. It’s like they’re taunting us. If it was a suburban development of one floor, that’s one thing, but to design something so large in the middle of the cultural and historic heart of the city and not make it easier for the public to comment is farcical (again I point to the fact that these reviews are at 4pm midweek, when most of us work).

          I will definitely get some comments together to mail to Mike and the Board!

  6. Bill Myers says:

    Did not know you could stack ugly that high. Scruffy!

  7. Chris Eaker says:

    I wish we would get more “regular” person housing, i.e. not student housing. Students, while nice people, are low-quality residents. I know from owning student rentals. They are sloppy, inconsiderate, and transient. Not exactly the kind of people you want downtown all the time. I know there are exceptions, but this is the general rule.

  8. Tim Lucas says:

    Very exciting news!!

  9. Steven Harris says:

    I love the new design of the tower, and with the changes made here – and the mention that more are coming, I’m confident it will continue to get better.

    Question – any update on the proposed building where the old Bus Terminal was on Gay Street next to where Mast General is? With today’s KNS news on the Cal Johnson building, I’m curious how ground floor retail would do there without other businesses on State (I know Marble Alley Phase 2 is suppose to have some whenever it gets started). I was thinking that proposed building would possibly have some access to state street from the rear and could help in that regard?

  10. Arthur Carmichael says:

    Can’t say I love the exposed parking garage. Lifeless sheer walls are never good urban design. Can’t the students walk to school?

    • Chris Eaker says:

      What on Earth are you talking about? Walk to school? They can’t even live in dorm rooms with communal bathrooms anymore. Walk to school? Nonsense.

      • I don’t mean to say this in a rude way, but do you understand Millennials (22-37) and Gen Z (21 and under) at all? Our two generations are far different than Xers and Boomers. We don’t take driving as the untouchable cultural entitlement that other generations have. We take transit and love biking and walking places more than any generations since before WW2. Every Millennial and Gen Zer I know, with the exception of a few (and only because they have only ever known car-based suburban life and haven’t felt the freedom of a better planned place), would much rather live in a walkable or transit/bike friendly community. We don’t have to have parking adjacent to where we live. And in a place like a downtown, this should no longer be the mentality. We need to stop planning like its the 60s, and for people with a suburban entitlement mentality. Car-dominant downtowns are not the future. They are the past.

        I do agree that the market for student housing is a huge bubble that needs to calm down, and I don’t mind people providing parking for residents, but it should serve the city its in, not the other way around. There should be parking maxiums in many cases and, in this design, the garage should never be seen. It’s an affront to a riverfront largely already aesthetically ruined by a huge Brutalist building and unnecessary road. And to complain about parking for the retail when there is a garage literally across the street (that is always empty after 6pm) and another a few blocks away is insane. People can walk. It’s really not hard, I promise.

        One would walk further from the food court of West Town Mall to the edge of the parking lot than they would from this development to at least three local garages. It’s all just a misplaced suburban car-culture mentality of deserving to have free parking literally next to everywhere you go, and it devalues urban places and quality architecture and planning.

        Anyway, all that said, from the eyes of the generation(s) coming into adulthood and having to deal with the ramifications of new construction for much longer, I urge people to reconsider the car dominate mentality (at least in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods) and develop what we actually want and need – walkable, bikable, transit heavy communities.

        🙂

        • I appreciate the sentiment behind this. I also want it to be true. Are you arguing that (for the sake of ease, let’s approximate <35 years old) people do not have cars? Or that they don't need to park them adjacent to where they live? If they still have cars, they have to go somewhere. If you are saying they don't have cars, can provide any statistics to back this up? And on a subjective level, how many of your peers (what %) don't have a car? I do think we should stop doing car-centric development. We should never have started it. But we have a built environment that largely depends on a car. We should build more responsibly and with less focus on car-dependence. But to get from here to there, there are growing pains. People still show up with their cars and want somewhere to put them, even as we are trying to change the built environment to not accommodate them. The re-development of Sevier Avenue with the form-based zoning is a local example of this. There are often more cars there than can be accommodated. I definitely want us to be creating buildings and a built environment not dependent on everyone having their own car and I realize the effect of what we build now will be felt for decades.

          • Hey, thanks for asking and allowing me to clarify!

            So for the record (because I oddly have to say this often when I preach my gospel of alternative transit options): I am not anti-car. I do not think cars are evil nor Henry Ford the devil himself. I simply think, as a person that has a B.Arch and as a citizen and Millennial that passionately still studies design, especially of urban places, and is also really into sociology, that time-and-time again if you look at the places that have the most charm and happiest people (experiential for the most part though some data correlates it) and highest character, they are places where the pace of life is at the pace of a bike, or trolley, or feet.

            Downtowns should never (and cities in general), as you said, have been designed around the car. Cars are ways to get us long distances. They should serve us; we should not cripple our cities to serve them, especially when we can provide other ways to move around.

            That said, I have a personal issue with cars (slight bias here, shocker) but only because in the previous 2 years I have had three cars that have been broken for a total of probably 19 months, and I am dirt poor, so I have had to learn how to commute to work either on KAT, my bike, my feet, or at the good graces of friends with working cars. So I definitely understand Knoxville is a car-dominant city, and living without one is a more than just a hassle.

            I am 27 (going on 28 next week). I miss the ease of having a car. Literally everyone Millennial I know has a car. But that’s not because they necessarily want it. It’s because for 60+ years America has decreed that it should build places where that’s the only way to get around. Car ownership is not indicative of what people want – its indicative of survival. That said, if I had to estimate, I would say honestly that 85-90% of every Millennial I know would say without hesitation, “Yes, of course” if asked, “If you could live somewhere with a reliable bus/tram/subway/etc to get you everywhere, or could walk or bike to everything you need, would you?”

            For us it’s a no-brainer. Here’s how I explain it best to people. Us Millennials are very aware, due to our upbringing, of the idea that time is money, and that we can truly do or become anything. Therefore, we are very ambitious. We are also very environmentally aware and health-conscious. Commuting every day is annoying. It’s not efficient. Many of us view it as a waste of time. It pollutes. It degrades our health. It costs soooooo much money (and a lot of us are in crazy amounts of college debt too). It’s stressful. We long to be freed from being tied down to cars. We’re American, after all – we want our options and want to have the self determination as to what is best for our lives. Car-oriented development doesn’t allow that. It’s a prison.

            So yes, we need to develop urban places away from the car, but it will require a culture shift, political courage, and support from citizens like us. It’s a multi-tiered beast. It’s not just about taking away parking. It’s adding protected bike lanes and making buses run more efficiently. It’s giving those bus stops shelters that dont make you feel like a second class citizen because you have to stand in the cold and rain just because you’re too poor to buy a car. It’s building just a little denser in older neighborhoods (like 3 floor town homes and apartments) instead of just single-family detached, so that the density gets high enough to actually serve transit. It’s understanding that the progression of life in America has not always been that once you turn 16 you get a car and if you don’t, you’re not an adult, and that cars are not status symbols, they are machines to transport us.

            It’s a lot of things.

            Sorry, I know I ranted, but I get passionate about this issue because it has (and is, as my car is again broken down) affected me so much. I have had to learn to not rely on a car, and the isolation and frustration that comes with living in a place predicated on the idea that everyone has one and can easily get one. It hurts the poor, the old, the young, and other marginalized groups. It creates two societies. The car class and the shadow class without a car. Life is much harder for them.

            So to answer the actual question (finally, I know right?) it’s not that my generation doesn’t own cars, it’s that we have to, at least in most cities in America. But we definitely don’t mind walking across downtown from a garage to an event. (And again, in regards to this development, I don’t mind that they’re building a garage, but do the “Texas Donut” as it’s called and build it like Marble Alley or Riverfront at the Bridges and hide the garage in the building itself. But no, I don’t think most younger folks would mind having to park a block or two away from their apartment.

            Heck, I am about to move into an old house in South Knox overlooking downtown, and my three new roommates and I are all talking about how the thing we’re most excited for is that if we want to go to Market Square, we don’t have to drive, because it is only a 10 minute bike ride, or a 25 minute walk.

            For many above 35ish, walking 25 minutes to get somewhere that can take you 3 minutes driving sounds crazy. But to many of us younger folk, it’s reversed. Why would I waste gas/money to drive (not that we wouldn’t if we were running late, mind you!) when we can get exercise and enjoy our city and still get to where we are going and – maybe the most important thing – not have to deal with traffic?

            Designing places (slowly and incrementally) away from sole car-use is not only common sense to me and many my age, for me personally it is an ethical imperative that creates a more equitable and pleasing city and society.

            (Thanks for bearing with my ranting. Haha) =D

          • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

            Could you explain in a little greater detail, Dustin? 🙂 Serously, thank you for weighing in.

          • Thanks Dustin and Kristin! As a Knoxville ex-pat it really does my heart good to see this kind or thoughtful discussion about of the car culture and alternatives in a Knoxville-specific context. Growing up in Knoxville, we never questioned the car culture model, but once I was exposed to cities with viable non-car transit options I was hooked, leading to a move to NYC some 25 years ago. It’s really exciting to see Knoxville growing into (or re-discovering it’s identity as) a multi-modal city. It would be great to see Knoxville as a potential retirement destination that supports a car-optional lifestyle!

        • Tim Lucas says:

          Well said Dustin and Kristen!

          • Kristen says:

            Haha, Dustin! Your long “rant.” I also have a bachelor of architecture and a strong interested in planning and sociology, though I’m not a millennial (I’m 39). It’s almost like me explaining it to me. I understand all of what you said, though perhaps many do not. You have a lot of enthusiasm on your side and I hope that helps us get somewhere as a community. The struggle, of course, continues to be how to get from here to there (not literal places, but societal practices). While many people would be in agreement with what you espouse, probably still the majority do not (not even the majority of millennials). We have a long way to go.

    • It’s really odd to me that they’re dedicating that much space to students. They’ve just built a huge student living space across the river and it’s not like UT’s student population has suddenly exploded. In fact, in 2008, the total student enrollment was 29,937. Last year, it was 28,321–representing a decrease of more than 1,600 students. Graduate students have increased in total by around 100 since then, but that does not justify all these new buildings being tailored to students. It just doesn’t make sense. Then again, I’m not in the business of constructing multi-million dollar buildings, so I may be missing something.

      • Chris Eaker says:

        I don’t think you’re missing anything. To borrow a phrase from good ol’ Alan Greenspan, I believe what we’re seeing is irrational exuberance in that sub-market. There has been so much student housing construction in the last 5 years, and UT itself is building new housing (albeit while demolishing old). And all these new developments keep pushing rent/bedroom higher and higher. And mom and dad keep paying it so that their kids don’t have to live in two-person dorms with a communal bathroom anymore. There is no such thing as the starving college student stereotype anymore.

        • Even the dorms don’t have communal bathrooms anymore. Which thank God. Because nobody should expect to live like that in this country.

      • Aaron B Northcutt says:

        I don’t know where you’re getting your 2008 numbers, Dave. According to the OIRA (Office of Institutional Research and Assessment), UT had a total enrollment of 27,739 in 2008 and now have a total enrollment of 28,321. That’s a change of +532, or about 1.9%. The student population is steadily growing (it goes up and down every year due to inconsistent application numbers). It has grown by about 3000 in the past 20 years, and there is a culture and demographic shift within American Universities where students are preferring to live in an apartment off campus rather than in a dorm. I don’t think the all the construction of student housing is totally justified, but some of it is needed. There is no shortage of student housing, but we’re not at a surplus quite yet. I would bet the developers know about all the growing competition, but it’s a growing market as well. slowly growing, but still growing.

  11. Definitely a significant improvement over the last proposal, which basically walled in all the existing buildings on Hill. If they would make the parking garage lower by one story they would definitely be on track. I’m still concerned about the proliferation of student-oriented rental housing. I don’t see how Knoxville can’t already be at the saturation point already.

    • It is at the saturation point. Student population has only declined over the last decade. It makes no sense to expand student housing where there is no demand and no trend suggesting increased demand in the near future.

  12. Twenty six stories isn’t exactly a “sky scraper.”. More like a high mid-range.

  13. Does this mean they may want to market this more towards regular residents? Considering this thing could probably fit all the students with parents from the 1% inside itself?

    • More 4 bedroom units mean more student housing. Not a good thing to turn downtown into a Ft. Sanders style dorm area. The same thing is happening in Columbia, SC. The mix of students and non-students has a big impact on the types of businesses that can thrive in the downtown area. On the other hand, we need many more residents on that sterile, institutional end of downtown. So, overall it’s a net positive.

      • bruce nelson says:

        For walkability check out the following site: Frankly, Downtown Knoxville rates very well in this regard.
        https://www.walkscore.com/

      • I guess I kind of have the opposite view. I spent some time in Columbia , SC the last few years & was wondering why downtown Knoxville couldn’t be more like Cola. The high rise living (a lot of it student), & certainly way more affordable dining options with national fast casual & chains in the Vista & along Gervais street. I’ve spent time in Greenville, Charleston, & Columbia, & Columbia’s downtown was by far my favorite. I thought USC’s campus was well laid out & between it & the state government offices, it provided for a great mix of dining & retail at all price points (not just the upper end bar type scene we mostly have in Knoxville).

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