Kress Building Purchased, Wild Wing Cafe Back, More Plans Considered

Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2018

It’s a crazy arc for a story, an almost unbelievable ending to a tale that was thought to be concluded. In 2014, Kress, LLC, a group including Brant Enderle of Henry and Wallace (etc.), purchased the Kress Building at 417 South Gay Street for $1.35 million. Under normal circumstances, a purchase of a distinguished building in the heart of rapidly developing district would produce an equally rapid redevelopment. Of course, that didn’t happen.

In January 2015, Bullman’s Gym announced plans to open in the basement of the building. In September 2015, Wild Wing Cafe was getting plans approved for their restaurant on the ground floor. It looked like a legitimate development was underway. And then it wasn’t. By spring of 2016, Bullman’s Gym pulled out. The owner of Wild Wing Cafe filed a lawsuit against the owners of the building over breach of contract for not completing work that had been paid for. The suit was settled, Wild Wing Cafe withdrew and the building languished.

To be fair, some work was completed in the subsequent two years. On the second floor, premium office space was constructed – though not finished. The facade was returned to its original appearance and is now more attractive than it has been in a generation or more. An elevator was added, at last. But nothing was finished and no one moved in.

Kress Building, Wild Wing Cafe Original Plans, 417 S. Gay, Knoxville, September 2015

View of the Kress Building from Inside the JC Penney Building, 412 – 416 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2015

That all changed recently, when McFarland Management closed on a purchase of the building for $3.825 million. Dave McFarland tells me he’d kept his eye on the building and maintained contact with a person associated with the group. He continued to feel that was the best place to open another Wild Wing Cafe location, but knew from the previous experience that he wanted to own the building. Eventually, it became clear it might be for sale and after lengthy negotiations, he made the purchase at the end of September. It’s the second major Enderle and associates owned building that has been sold in the last twelve months. (See the other, here.)

Somewhat philosophically, Mr. McFarland notes that he can now use many of the plans he’d paid to have drawn two-and-a-half years ago. He says the basic plan will remain the same, though there have been changes, such as no mezzanine offices because he can now place them elsewhere. “I’m excited to get started on Wild Wing Cafe on the first floor. I hope to get that started the first quarter of next year and hope to have it finished by the end of the second quarter.”

Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, October 2018

There are also other intriguing possibilities offered by the building. The basement will, once again, be available for lease by an interested business. He noted that some remediation has to be done both in the basement and on the roof. Also, a small, 800 to 1000 square foot retail space will likely be available on the north side of the building, fronting Gay Street.

As stated, the second floor is premium office space, which he said will remain. He’s considering taking an office there. The third floor, however, is undeveloped and he, with the help of Johnson Architecture, is considering a range of possibilities, including condos or offices. He’s thinking of making the rooftop an event space or rooftop bar with a catering kitchen, though he says it would be a separate concept from the Wild Wing Cafe. The rooftop, he says, is an excellent space.

“I’m so excited to be here. I’ve been in Knoxville for eleven years and consider it home.”


  1. Wings and beer… how about a quality grocery in walking distance for downtown residents, or a healthier affordable dining option…? Downtown is not just a playground, people do actually live here.

    • I would love for an Aldi or something to take the place of one of the surface parking lots. The lot next door to NV/Bowery would be perfect, as there’s free parking under the garage, so it could serve downtown foot traffic, car traffic, and trolley riders (as the line goes right by there). Aldi also closes at 8 PM, which is just when the Old City starts to get busy in the evening, so it and Old City businesses wouldn’t be in competition for the available parking most of the time! It’s almost too perfect of a proposition, and there’s not many other places that satisfy all three of those types of shopper.

      Perhaps if those Old City baseball stadium rumors don’t pan out, that could serve as a downtown-friendly grocery site (among other retail). I personally hate the idea of the stadium and think we should just build one where the old one was! It’s a perfectly fine spot, as evidenced by the fact that *we used to have a stadium there*…

      I don’t live downtown, but I live about a mile and a half east between Dandridge and Holston Hills. There’s no local grocer for me, either. my closest grocery store is across the river, unless you count the new Dollar General they just opened on Boyd’s Bridge a ‘grocer’ (I don’t). An Aldi or Trader Joe’s or something in that Old City spot would be my new primary grocer.

  2. Sabrina DeVault-Greene says

    Downtown has food for every taste except total vegetarian or vegan. I would love to see something like Laughing Seed or Rosetta’s in Asheville open downtown. Rosettas offers a pay what you can plate of beans, rice, greens and bread.

    We may need some Unchain Downtown Knoxville t-shirts made up.

    • “Unchain Downtown Knoxville” t-shirts because of the 2-3 chains we have? We have an amazing assortment of non-chain, original and delicious cuisine downtown. I’m sorry there isn’t a total vegetarian or vegan option for you – maybe you can spearhead that campaign (or open a restaurant yourself) instead of an ‘Unchain’ campaign?

    • Liked and seconded (original post)

    • I am a vegan and I live downtown. While we don’t have anything like Laughing Seed (except for Sanctuary Vegan Cafe in West Knox), I am thankful that many places do offer substantial options. Things have improved so much nationwide for vegans in the last decade. Here are some of my favorites:

      – Good Golly Tamale: Vegan Soul Tamale
      – Nama Sushi Bar: tofu sushi
      – Kaizen: tofu available in many dishes (probably almost all if you ask)
      – Barleys: vegan cheese pizza
      – Tomato Head: vegan cheese pizza or tofu sandwich
      – Balter BeerWorks: black bean oat burger
      – SoKno Taco: tofu burrito w/o cheese
      – Juice Bar: just about everything I think
      – Olibea: Tempeh and tofu on the a la carte menu; pair with potatoes and toast for a decent breakfast
      – Bistro at the Bijou: apple cinnamon quinoa bowl for brunch, other options for lunch/dinner too I think
      – Yassin’s: falafel sandwich
      – Soccer Taco: fajitas w/o cheese on the beans

      Food Trucks:
      – Southern Sisters: Impossible Burger
      – Burrito: rotating, usually 2 out of 6 or so options are completely vegan
      – Captain Muchachos: tofu tacos
      – Cubish: they have vegan sausage if you ask for it

  3. Sabrina Straub says

    Great to hear that this highly visible spot on Gay Street will soon be occupied and the facade refreshed. Regardless of your thoughts on the restaurant, this is definitely a move in the right direction, far better than it sitting bleakly empty. It would be wonderful to one day see all the buildings on Gay Street occupied and the surface lots replaced with mixed-use construction. I think a residential anchor at the south end of the street (i.e. the old hotel), would be great for bringing tenants to that end. I am so impatient, I know, one step at a time…

  4. Just to remind folks that different people have different taste. I for one am thrilled that Wild Wings Cafe is coming downtown. It is one of my favorite wing joints around here, if not my favorite.

  5. Wild Wing Cafe is not a Buffalo Wild Wings. The food is much better and Wild Wing Cafe is always busy. If it were the other I would be disappointed as well, but it is not. Just wanted to clarify in case the two were confused by anyone.

    • I’m not confused I’ve had both. Neither compare to Myrtle’s.

      • I just got to say..well, duh. Neither have any connection or competition to Myrtles. Myrtles is a completely different kind of chicken. I wouldn’t go to Myrtles for hot wings and I wouldn’t go to Wild Wing Cafe for moderately spiced “hot” chicken.

  6. DownTown Phil (DTP) says

    I’ll be the lone voice and say: I Can’t wait for Wild Wing Cafe to open! Finally! A good wing place downtown. I love some Tennessee Fireball Wings…

  7. Art Wagner says

    Wild Wings represents just more of the same type of mediocrity in food quality and choices that is harming the downtown restaurant scene. That development scene should be emulating Asheville, not a suburban strip mall.

    • Oh that would be fabulous. We love all the really amazing restaurant choices Asheville has to offer. Not many chains but so many options of unique and first quality and interesting places for food. We’ve been here 15 yrs and love that downtown has grown amazing & more interesting and exciting for all but I must admit I could use a few more places like an Emilia’s or Cafe 4 or Babalou Tacos than another bar-type or burger or chain style restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I love what we have but it seems to me that once something is liked then more of the same is quickly brought in. Although a chain, I’d love to see a BrickTops brought in. Kind of upscale dining, fresh quality food at reasonable prices. Would have been a great replacement for ‘5’ instead of Black Horse pub. I love Black Horse pub but to me its just more of the same. I think what the real draw for downtown for my family is truly all the wonderful events held in Market Square, festivals, the symphony and activity at the Tennessee Theater. Honestly the food downtown has never been a draw for us. That does make me a little sad as I live with 2 eating machines who love to go ‘dine’. 😀

      • You know Babalu is a chain….right? Asheville has a Wild Wing Cafe downtown too…I’m failing to see a cogent point.

    • We’re talking about the same downtown Asheville scene that has a Wild Wing Café right?

  8. Steven Harris says

    Chattanooga has good mix of local and chains – so I think that chains can still have a place here as well without ruining the local owned businesses.

    • Provided we aren’t trying to put down our downtown compared to Chattanooga’s, I agree 🙂 It’s almost like we have too many local restaurants. The only national chain restaurant I can think of that we have is Subway.

      • Agree that the downtowns of Chattanooga and Knoxville dont compare all that well. The dining options in Knoxville are well ahead of Chattanooga.

  9. What’s the other Enderle building sold in the past 12 months? Delighted to see this out of their hands. However Wild Wings has no appeal. Locally created and owned businesses are what make Downtown so appealing! Now if only Enderle would sell the Century Building to real developer….

    • Former Regions building. The new owners are turning it into an Embassy Suites. From what I see, construction is going along very well.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      The other building is the Conley Building, which is now rapidly becoming an Embassy Suites Hotel.

    • We must run in different circles. I’ve lived downtown for the better part of 5 years now and I’ve heard time and time again how much people want a sports bar with good wings. Tommy Trents has recently stepped into that role, but it’s quite small. People still want a big sports bar with good wings and reasonably priced beer. The Downtown brewery across the street is a very weak substitute for that (it’s fine for what it is, but a sports bar it is not). There is huge demand for this.

  10. One more large-profile H&W property is taken out of their hands, and magically plans for development appear. How many more are left? All I know of is East Towne Mall. Side note, Wild Wing Cafe has never been that great of a restaurant. One chain would be ok, but maybe something with better food.

    • They own Standard Knitting Mill. I think they still own some property south of the river too.

      Mary already mentioned the Century Building.

    • They still own Standard Knitting Mills, the Hull-Dobbs building on Central, and at least two buildings on Sevier Ave. in addition to the mall.

  11. Chris Eaker says

    I’d give anything to know the real reason behind why that Enderle group is completely inept when it comes to developing real estate yet they continue to buy properties. Something smells really fishy.

    • Charlie Andover says

      Buy low, sell high. The trick is being able to get the money to buy and hold it for a few years. With low interest rates and increasing real estate values it makes a lot of sense.

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