Kress Building Sold, New Plans Announced

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

In recent months, I’ve been asked repeatedly about the Kress Building. Most recently, a year-and-a-half ago, I’d detailed Dave McFarland’s plans to bring Wild Wings Cafe to the space and that sign has been in the window since. But that wasn’t the first time plans were announced for the building. It wasn’t even the first time that Wild Wings had been planned for the space.

When I first wrote about the building, it had been purchased by Henry and Wallace and they’d announced development plans. For years it had been the quirky, if helpful, Jay’s Megamart. In the fall of 2015, I reported approved plans for Wild Wing Cafe, then canceled plans amid a dispute. In October of 2018, the story appeared to have come full circle, when Mr. McFarland, rather than leasing the space, returned to purchase the entire building.

Jay’s Mega Mart, 417 – 421 S. Gay Street, Knoxville

It seemed the future of the 1925 building was set. Intending to open in the fall of 2019, construction seemed to never get started. There were a number of delays as Mr. McFarland replaced infrastructure and attempted to line up tenants. Construction began early this year and then halted after about three weeks, due to the pandemic.

Chad Turner and Will Sims from Oliver Smith Realty felt they had an interested buyer and connected Mr. McFarland with Thomas Boyd. Details were negotiated through the summer and the papers were signed yesterday to transfer ownership to Mr. Boyd.

Kress Building, First Floor, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2020

Kress Building, First Floor, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2020

I spoke to Thomas who said, “It’s a cool building and I want to find places that are in need of new life. I hope to bring a new spin to the block.” He said he his tenants are excited and are regional and local businesses. One tenant, Fat Tuesday, has been especially patient through all the delays and was transferred from Dave McFarland to Thomas in the transaction. Thomas said the building fit his goals of bringing residences and locally owned businesses to downtown.

Chad and Will gave me a tour of the building, along with the new vision, which is similar to the previous plans, but with some twists. Facing the building, the space to the right will be Fat Tuesday. The space allocated to them in the new plan is significantly larger, as the back half of that section was formerly to have been devoted to a kitchen for Wild Wing Cafe. It should allow them to expand their concept for the space.

Kress Building, Second Floor, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2020

Kress Building, Second Floor, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2020

Kress Building, Second Floor, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2020

The largest space on the main floor, previously set to be a Wild Wing Cafe, will be a restaurant and bar. The occupant hasn’t been announced, but it appears to be a “unique concept” featuring a Tennessee business. The space, about 4500 square feet, is a large one for downtown restaurants.

The basement is still in negotiation, but the second floor office space is just a bit of cleaning shy of being ready for tenants. The entire floor, including 7800 sq ft., may be taken by one company or the design allows for two or three companies to share the floor. Chad and Will said demand for office space has continued to be strong through the pandemic.

Kress Building, Third Floor, 417 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 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

There’s a little room for flexibility on the third floor, but Thomas is intent on making it residential. Should an office tenant request a second floor, that might be considered, but residential development is a priority. The rooftop will feature an additional restaurant and bar with local ties. It will not be related to the other businesses in the building.

This time feels like the charm for the building. Sitting in the middle of the single block with the most businesses, it almost seems odd that someone hasn’t made it work before now. Construction should begin soon and announcements of new businesses should shortly follow.

If you have interest in discussing leasing any portion of the building that remains available, email Chad or Will for more information.


  1. That will make 3 rooftop bars on Gay Street in close proximity to one another plus all the rooftop bars the West’s have on Market Square. Also I believe the renovation of the building off of Locust St. is planning a restaurant bar on the rooftop also. Sounds like this might be East Nashville in the making.

    • Stewart Smith says

      No this is Downtown Knoxville. We are a unique community that has our own culture and history. Comparisons to Asheville maybe since we are both on either side of the Smokies. But we are not Nashville.

      • Bob Richards says

        Thank God Knoxville is not Nashville and hopefully, NEVER WILL BE!! As a former resident of NashVegas, I love Knoxville and east Tennessee and please don’t over develop downtown. Plus, Knoxville is halfway affordable so keep it that way!!!!

  2. I don’t think a single person is going to be disappointed about Wild Wing not coming. Excited to see what will

    • I talked to about 6 people this weekend who would have preferred to have it. The other sports/wings places downtown can’t hold a candle to it.

  3. My grandfather was the president of Kress from the 50s until his retirement! He was based in NYC but worked in many regional stores, including the southeast. Because of his connection, I love seeing the old Kress buildings and was excited to find this one when we moved to Knoxville!

  4. Excited to see a plan for a Fat Tuesday is finally coming to fruition! Bring a chunk of the Big Easy to downtown K-Town.

  5. The Boyd family is going to own all of downtown by the time their property push is finished. Hopefully they continue to be amenable and generous to their tenants!

  6. This is such great news! Glad to see the building in capable hands! Looking forward to the future when we can bar hop between the rooftops and enjoy a daquiri and whatever else this building has in store!

  7. Congratulations once again to the Boyd Family,

    We like the way they think!

    Downtown revitalization, history, entertainment, imagining an exciting future for all of Knoxville, a future to share with everyone, not just keep for themselves…

    Support Local Stuff!

    Welcome to the Downtown Knoxville Rooftop Barhop!

    Very nice addition to the Ale Trail, the Theater District, the Ice Cream District…

    We like it.

  8. Finally! That beautiful structure has been empty far too long.

  9. The Kress is a beautiful building. I have fond memories of going there with my mom when when I was younger. Very much looking forward to what happens next.

    • I, too, have great memories of walking from home on E. Hill Ave. to downtown growing up to catch a movie and hit all three 5&10 stores, Kress, Woolworth’s, and McLellan to buy a few things a child’s allowance could afford.

  10. Lynette Purdue says

    The National Building Museum in Washington, DC had a whole exhibit once dedicated to Kress Buildings around the country. Each one is unique and beautiful. When I am traveling around I like to keep my eyes open for Kress Buildings. This is some of the best news I’ve heard in 2020.

  11. Patrick Hunt says

    After reading “Jay’s MegaMart,” I misread the next sentence to announce “Wild Wig Cafe.” Fitting.

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