Standard Knitting Mill May Be Redeveloped After All

Map of Area Surrounding Standard Knitting Mill (with proposed boulevard), 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

It’s had a long, tortured journey. According to Knox Heritage, Standard Knitting Mill was founded in 1900 with about 50 employees. By the 1930s it employed over 4,000 and at one point it produced a million garments a week. The plant was last operated by Delta Apparel, which left in 2007. The lone remaining building was built around 1945 and includes about 430,000 square feet.

In recent years, Knox Heritage has routinely listed it as an endangered property, and it has languished, as have other properties under ownership that included Brant Enderle and partners. A group including Enderle bought the building several years ago for $500,000 with promises of redevelopment, which never materialized. WRS Investments out of South Carolina recently purchased the property for over $4 million and announced their intentions to redevelop the site.

Mayor Rogero discusses Standard Knitting Mill (with proposed boulevard), 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Meeting Regarding Standard Knitting Mill, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Peter Davis of WRS discusses Standard Knitting Mill (with proposed boulevard), 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Bill Lyons, Deputy to the Mayor, said he has seen as many as fifteen different proposals for Standard Knitting Mill in his years in city government and that redevelopment of the property has been a priority for the Rogero administration. The fact that previous attempts came to naught led to a question from the audience regarding how much tax-payer money is at risk should the current project not come to fruition. Lyons indicated that the structure of the deal would prevent the city from being liable if the project isn’t completed. Lyons called the current project “ambitious and visionary.”

Peter Davis, Director for Acquisitions and Development for WRS, said the company, which closed on the property just two weeks ago, sees Knoxville as a “gem” and the building as a “billboard to the city from the Interstate.” He said the process to purchase the building, including due diligence to determine the challenges of redevelopment, took about a year.

Noting that the company is in the early phases of exploring specifics with the building, Mr. Davis did indicate they have a wide-angle view of what they hope to accomplish. The focus will be on mixed-use development with some components of housing, office, and retail. He said they hope to enliven the surrounding area and said he’s open to ideas for connections to the adjacent Caswell Park and expanding the greenway along First Creek.

Standard Knitting Mill, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Standard Knitting Mill, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Standard Knitting Mill, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Saying the intention is to utilize as much of the building as possible, including the rooftop, he said the company plans a series of public meetings to obtain input. They also intend to preserve the adjacent Ridley-Helton Stadium (formerly Bill Meyer Stadium), though a portion of the left outfield may have to be sacrificed for the planned boulevard. Historic tax credits will likely be utilized and the equity portion of the project has not been finalized.

The boulevard is to improve access to the site, which is currently very limited. Bill Lyons made the point that the boulevard will be tree-lined and friendly to cyclists and pedestrians, as well as vehicles. The cost for the boulevard will be about $5 million, with the city’s portion capped at about $3.5 million, payable on completion of the project. Parking will also be added beside the development and a twenty-five-year PILOT will be granted, pending approvals.

Mr. Davis said that the company wants this to be an “inclusive project” and they “want it be a thriving, dynamic mixed-use development for everyone.” While declining to put a time-line on the project, he said it will not be fast. The first step is to remediate the toxic waste on the site produced by long-term uses of bleaches and dyes without sufficient safeguards.

Standard Knitting Mill, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

Standard Knitting Mill, 1400 Washington Avenue, Knoxville, December 2019

The company’s highest profile project to date is Underground Atlanta, which encompasses four city blocks, both underground and above. The company purchased it four years ago and “preserved the historic parts and tore down the bad parts.” The group said they learned a lot from that development that will translate to this new project. They took what was mostly a two-story area and increased it to eighteen stories. They hope to re-open it next spring.

Someone asked whether the current project might be expanded upwards. Mr. Davis said that with the large amount of square footage in the four-story building expanding upwards isn’t likely. When pressed, he implied that if this goes well, there may be adjacent parcels that would be amenable to future, perhaps more vertical, development.

Comments

  1. Mary Ann Collins says

    Love that something might be done with this building. My 93-year-old mom speaks fondly of the days when she worked there. So hate losing the history of Knoxville so I do hope that consideration will be given to at least acknowledge the buildings past.

  2. You should check your sources on WRS’ portfolio. They’ve done little to nothing at Underground Atlanta and have let the City of Atlanta down with actually doing anything of significance there other than letting the city sell the streets to a private developer. I’m willing to bet WRS will sit on this project given how very little experience they have here.
    You should reach out to Darin Givens from ATL Urbanist blog about the lack of commitment from this firm to actually do anything in the best interest of the city.

    You can find out more about WRS’s “progress” at Underground Atlanta here:

    https://threadatl.tumblr.com/post/188412296396/update-on-underground-atlanta-development-brings

  3. Their deed says it is subject to 100 foot charter rights of the Norfork and Southern Railroad from center line of railroad. Could be interesting . Looks like the building is within 100 feet .

  4. If you like hearing the trains move I like hearing the trains come through

  5. One major problem at that site is going to be the train traffic. Having lived across the street from same in the Old City and hearing a train whistle blown at high volume in front of my apartment every couple of hours 24 hours a day 7 days a week is not something I’d wish on anyone. Now I live close to Standard Knitting on the north end of 4th & Gill and when the trains hit Washington Ave the same thing happens. The quality of life there will suffer if this isn’t addressed.

  6. This seems at cross purposes with the lame duck Mayor’s impassioned drive to placate the homeless industry build a very large homeless shelter on the other side of Caswell Park taking city land an encroaching on the residential areas of 5th Avenue. Caution should be given to vague plans that could seriously impact the reviving areas of Parkridge. I have not been a big fan of many of design changes brought to our downtown neighborhoods that seem to be straight out of garden & Gun magazine and more suited for Farragut. With Mayor Elect Kincannon a very long time close-to-town resident, maybe development will be more sensitive to residents as the area gentrifies.

  7. I was in Bliss last night and every time I see a unicorn ( frequently in Bliss), I think of Urban brother. Thinking of you and your family.

  8. Chris Eaker says

    It just doesn’t seen right that a group with no real plan to do anything with the property but let it deteriorate further gets an 800% return on their money.

    • Along with Chris Eaker’s comment, I wonder as well if they benefitted from any tax incentives, or other city sponsored benefits for promised development?

    • Christopher Saah says

      Do we know how much money they spent on the property? I know mr. Davis spoke of around $2 million in clean up costs they would be spending. Do we know what shape the property was in before Brant bought it? There’s no telling how much they have spent on the property, so the return might not be as great as you think.

      • I’m excited living in the area. That factory looks like it was shelled in the French country side during WW2 and left to rot.

        I like to road addition. Whenever it rains hard 6th Ave kind of floods in a couple parts and another route to avoid the train would be nice. Some people get some serious road rage over that thing. Kind of worries me watching them peel out to go flying back through a neighborhood.

        I personally would like to see it predominately office space, at least on the upper floors. If the lower floor could be used for a couple casual restaurants or some retail so there is easy access.

        A casual restaurant that was kid friendly like a pizza place would do great business being that close to the ball fields.

        I just don’t see residents in that building given the size. A highrise apt/condo building next to it would be nice.

        And I don’t recommend moving near train tracks if your a light sleeper.

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