A Preview of the Plans for the Kress Building and Wild Wing Cafe

Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, Dave McFarland, current owner of the Kress Building offered to show me around the inside of the building and give me a look at the most recent version of the plans for the building which includes a large basement, three floors and a rooftop space.

It’s a building I’ve given a lot of attention starting in February 2015 when I first toured the building, later I reported approved plans for Wild Wing Cafe, then canceled plans amid a dispute. Most recently I reported that Mr. McFarland returned to purchase the entire building.

Basement and First Floor Plans of the Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019 (Plans by Johnson Architecture)

The centerpiece of the plans for the building and the literal center of the front of the building is set to be a location for Mr. McFarland’s sixth Wild Wing Cafe restaurant. It’s the largest space in the ground floor and will include seating for about 250 people. There will be a few seats on an outdoor patio, seating inside on the main floor and seating on a mezzanine which will be to the left and rear of the restaurant.

A horseshoe-shaped bar will center the room and will include addition seating. A stage will be built in the rear corner as live music is a focus for the restaurants. Mr. McFarland mentioned a range of genres “acoustic to bluegrass to Journey cover bands.” He said they have live music as many as six nights a week. You’ll also find your favorite sports on the televisions.

First Floor Interior of the Kress Building, Future Wild Wings Cafe, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

First Floor Small Retail (and Kitchen Space) of the Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

To the right of the Wild Wings Cafe (facing the building) is an available retail space of just over 700 square feet on the main floor and around 1500 square feet down a set of stairs, for a combined 2200 square feet. The stairs have yet to be added and a wall will be built in the space to separate it from the Wild Wing kitchen.

To the immediate left (facing the building) of the Wild Wing space is an entrance that access an elevator. The elevator will reach the basement and mezzanine of the restaurant. It will also be the primary entrance and exit for the two upper floors and the rooftop. To the extreme left is an entrance which leads to a stairwell directly accessing the basement.

Basement of the Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

Second Floor of the Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

Plans for each of the floors have begun to take shape for uses, if not tenants. In addition to the commercial space on the ground floor, there are two additional spaces in the basement,  of approximately 1300 and 1700 square feet. About 1800 square feet in the basement will be devoted to food prep, cold storage and a 3,000 gallon grease trap.

The second floor is divided approximately in half, with one half having nearly finished office spaces and the other half more open. Mr. McFarland considers it a good potential co-working space, but client needs could dictate its final configuration. He hopes to have the certificate of occupancy for the second floor by the end of this month.

Third Floor Future Event Space, Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

Third Floor Future Event Space, Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

The third floor includes a large open space. Much of it will remain open for an event space, while a bridal suite will be added to make the venue comfortable for weddings and receptions. It will be connected to the rooftop which will also be available for use as a wedding, reception or other event space. Mr. McFarland is currently developing a similar space in Johnson City.

When the rooftop isn’t reserved for an event, it will be an open-air bar featuring views of Gay Street and offering a capacity of around 200. Small plates would be available and a small warming kitchen will also be located there. The rooftop bar will be a separate endeavor from Wild Wing Cafe. Projected opening for the rooftop will likely be 2020.

Rooftop of the Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

View of Gay Street from the Rooftop, Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

View of Gay Street from the Rooftop, Kress Building, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2019

The hope is to get the current plans into the permitting process by the end of next week. He hopes to have that process completed in about four weeks, allowing for intensive construction to begin around the end of April or beginning of May. Opening the restaurant is the highest priority and he hopes to have it open for football season.

At the same time, the retail space is being offered by Chad Turner with Oliver Smith Realty and Auction Company. If you’re interested in learning more about one of the spaces, contact him at chad@oliversmithrealty.com or call the office at 865-584-2000.

Mr. McFarland’s excitement about the project and about opening a downtown location was obvious. “I’ve been looking at this building since 2014. When I first came to town in 2007 I was interested in downtown. It took a while.”

The architectural design is being completed by Johnson Architecture. Tillman Construction is handling the build-out.


  1. Gail Mitchell says

    It’s such a beautiful building. I’m just grateful someone has stepped up to renovate and do something with it instead of letting it go to ruin. WWC is fine and I think its such a creative idea to have other type of ideas for the other floors. Fingers crossed that all levels are utilized to their fullest. In the 16 yrs of living in Knoxville I’m eternally grateful as to how much our lovely city has come back to life. When we let our home in MD we had access everything cosmopolitan. Shopping, theatre, any number of museums, live music venues, coffee shops, amazing restaurants, and spectacular farm markets, as well as nearby big city life in NYC and DC. When my hubbys job moved us here, I admit I cried for a few years for the lack of any of the above. Then the economic bust hit. That certainly didn’t help. These last 10 years have been spectacular in watching the growth and development of our beautiful city. The fact that we now have so many farmers markets to choose from on any given day is fantastic. Watching our area grow into such a beautiful, active mini-metropolis with determined, kind people who really care about making our city better has been awesome. I am eternally grateful to be able to have seen such amazing positive changes in the growth and development of our city. I can’t think of a better place to have raised our son. Thanks Allen for sharing city updates. You are appreciated.

  2. Tony genci says

    WWC is a great place to eat but depending on management they are a b**check to work for

  3. Bring a Wild Wing to Tampa/Wesley Chapel Fl!

  4. My husband and I regularly drove from Maryville to the Farragut location to listen to bluegrass music and enjoy some beer and wings. Now that we live downtown, we are looking forward to having the same experience here. Sure hope some of the shows will be offered at a time suitable for the old folks! Buy the way, we regularly dine at Knoxville’s fine local restaurants and breweries. I don’t think this place will be the city’s downfall.

  5. Wings, television, beer. Wow.

  6. Downtown Phil says

    Mmmm Wild Wing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I can’t wait to get my hands on some Tennessee Fireball wings! (And not have to drive out west)

  7. A kitschy chain restaurant certainly contributes nothing to the downtown vibe. Hopefully the rooftop bar will be a step both up literally and metaphorically.

    • You’re probably a loan of fun at parties, aren’t you?

      • Hi Mike. Didn’t know this was a forum for personal insult. Thanks for the initiation. And have a good ole weekend!

        • You brought some very negative energy to start. Let’s try to keep this place civil.

        • Dave lecturing on civility. Flabbergasted is the word that comes to mind.

          Bill you’re doing fine. I’m happy about the rooftop bar too and look forward to more details.

  8. Polly Doka says

    Glad to see this building come to life. Sounds like a good mix. Maybe the music at this location could start earlier than some other downtown venues. Something for everyone. Thanks Inside Guy.

  9. happy for the building to be utilized. not happy for a chain restaurant. it would be nice to have a local or regional restaurant. or better yet NOT another restaurant and use it for retail.

  10. I’m so glad this building is finally getting a purpose. I love the Kress Buildings. Every one of them was designed to be a unique piece of art; no two were alike.
    Thanks for sharing this Alan.

  11. Wild wings cafe? Another fast food chain? I’m so disappointed.

    • I don’t believe this is “fast food.”


      • Garbage food, yes. But not fast food. One chain isn’t going to kill downtown Knoxville though. There are only currently 6 national non-hotel chains in all of downtown and three of them are Starbucks.

        • I love all of these nay-sayers, whereas here this restaurant owner is making a huge investment in a downtown building that wouldn’t have been restored had they not stepped up. Not to mention, it was previously in the hands of a company that notoriously cannot finish projects. This project is now bringing an unused, vacant building back to life. So to each nay-sayer: if you’re so against this restaurant why don’t you pony up some of your time, funds, and resources and try to do something else?

          • Don’t get me wrong, anything is better than an empty H&W property. I just feel like WWC doesn’t really flow well with the rest of the area.

          • Andy Stenberg says

            I live in Asheville with lots of dining options but I frequent both Wild Wing Cafe locations in Asheville more than any other restaurant. Great food, service, and ownership!

  12. Darrell Cox says

    whlle i applaud anyone who is trying to improve a building or to make anything new downtown viable, i was so sad to see the kress building split up on the ground floor into three different spaces. i remember shopping at the old kress store and what a great building it was at the time. surely it could have been made into a much larger space with restoration of the inside to the way it was, but then again i guess not. i remember going down to the basement there and getting a great milkshake, which they were known for. some of the people that are not from knoxville really dont understand what some of these landmarks meant to the people here. and i truly believe that. some things are ok they are doing downtown, but i certainly think a lot of the construction of the newer buildings simply have no character at all and are just so boring looking. but, iguess its just progress for progresses sake.i would just like some more unique buildings being built. but maybe 50 or 100 years from now some with daring designs and development ideas will start to move things here in knoxville and downtown. thats just my opinion.

    • I dont think many places could/would want to pay for the entire downstairs. Retail isnt dead but its on the ropes. What do you think happened to Kress/K-mart? Go walk through East Towne mall sometime. Its probably on 20-30% occupied, they dont even heat or cool a huge section of it.

    • Kenneth Moffett says

      Re “—newer buildings simply have no character at all and are just so boring looking.”: All too true. deservedly interesting and contextually pertinent design having been banned from nearly all architecture school curricula beginning 100 years ago, it stands to reason that these new buildings just don’t stand up to the remaining old ones.

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