Rendering of Proposed Development at 726 Sevier Avenue
Sevier Avenue continues to be one of the hottest spots for development in the city and that trend continues with the announcement that Conley Entertainment Group will move its headquarters from Pasadena, California to 726 Sevier Avenue, which is currently a fenced-in corner with a few marginal buildings located along Davenport. A new development will house both the commercial space required for the company and a large residential development.
Brian Conley is originally from Knoxville, attended Bearden and graduated from UT. He moved to LA for three years and has moved between states since. He moved there with plans of becoming a screenwriter. He wrote a novel set in Fort Sanders. The Killer of Lovewas critically acclaimed, but reactions locally were mixed as some people who may have been used as the basis for characters in the book didn’t like how they were portrayed.
By the late 90s he’d purchased downtown properties along with his brother, including the Burwell Building among others. He managed properties and operated a construction company, Cardinal Enterprises. He was part of a group which won the RFP from the city to develop the Market Square you see today. Competing ideas would have covered the square with a roof to make a “mall.”
The proposal called for a theater on Gay Street where the Riviera once stood. The family owned what is now Krutch Park extension, which they donated to be opened up as a connector between Gay Street and Market Square. The plan called for facade improvements and incremental, organic development – pretty much what came to be. Market Square was reconstituted to look like it does today.
He also bought and owned Metro Pulse during this era. It was a rocky relationship in some respects, with some in the community suspicious of his motivations. If there were concerns when he purchased the newspaper, there was dismay on the part of others when he sold it three-and-a-half years later to Scripps. He is proud of the fact that the paper was losing about a quarter-of-a-million dollars when he arrived and was making about $300,000 a year when he left. Still, it was another complicated community dynamic.
In 2007, his group once again offered the winning proposal when the city asked for development of the World’s Fair Park. The proposal included placing condos in the Candy Factory and preservation and resurrection of the neglected Sunsphere. He intended to put Metro Pulse inside the Sunsphere, but once he sold the newspaper, he ultimately moved the offices for his Half-Off Depot and Cardinal Enterprises into the space where they stayed for about seven years.
Around 2015, in a transitional phase, he met a filmmaker in Hilton Head and went to dinner with Nathan Ives, the director of the movie. They hit it off and decided to co-produce, write and direct horror movies. Conley Entertainment Group was born.
The first of their collaborations is, “The Basement,” which will make its theatrical premiere in Knoxville at the Regal Riviera Theater, 7:00 PM, September 13, before moving into limited theatrical release in major cities and to on-demand the following day. The movie has been on the festival circuit for nine months and has gotten great reviews and has won numerous awards, like Best Feature Film at Horror Hound Film Fest in Cincinnati. Lead actors from the film will attend the Knoxville premier.
The company is developing a pipeline of films. They co-produced, “New York Christmas,” a made-for-tv drama released in November 2017. In 2019, they plan to release “Us,” a “romantic drama,” which was filmed in Italy and stars Ross McCall and Allison Miller. Interestingly for Knoxville, they’ve greenlit an as-yet untitled horror feature which will be filmed here next spring. Conley pointed out that Tennessee offers good incentives for movie makers and Curt Willis, Film Office Director with Visit Knoxville has been very helpful.
Brian has been spending more time here with his family and came to a point he felt he had to move back to California or move the company here. Given the film talent available in Knoxville, he said the choice was a natural one. “Traveling was difficult and I want to build a legacy here. We’ve built all the connections in Hollywood that we need, writing can be done long-distance and the actual movie making is the only time everyone has to be together.
While he acted as real estate agent for his brother on a number of deals in the past, he also bought some property, himself, and that includes 726 Sevier Avenue. Rural Metro had their headquarters there for a time. The buildings are now in bad repair and were never built to last and will be demolished.
In their place will be 103,000 square feet of residential space for 120 apartments and 3,000 square feet of commercial space for the Conley Entertainment Group. The property has great views of downtown Knoxville and the river, and will include 130 parking spaces, a pool and roof-top access with fire pits. The Dominion Group, developers of River’s Edge Apartments near Island Home, will be a partner in the development.
While the design for the new project might ultimately look different from the renderings shown here, Conley stressed that it will be an urban design. Chattanooga’s Artech Design Group, which worked on the Burwell Building and the Candy Factory, will guide the design process.
The upscale units will be built in such a way that a condo conversion would be possible at a later time. There will be a secure, gated entry off Davenport and plans call for breaking ground next spring to coincide with the city’s work on Sevier Avenue. The design will be compliant with the new requirements coming under the Recode Knoxville for SW4 zoning on the South Waterfront.
The hope is for a mid-year 2020 completion for the apartments and commercial space, at which time the Conley Entertainment Group will establish its permanent Knoxville headquarters, moving operations from Pasadena.