Demolition Planned for 115 East Jackson Avenue in the Old City

115 East Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, February 2023
115 East Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, February 2023

In this generation, 115 East Jackson Avenue was long home to Willow Creek Antiques. As reported in July 2021 by Knoxnews, the building was purchased by Jim and Lori Klonaris for $1.9 million. The article details the plans the couple had for developing a taller building on top of the current building. I spoke with Jim not long after the article appeared and he walked me through the basement, explaining that he felt the structure would support the ambitious project.

Only he was later told it couldn’t. As detailed on the website, numerous issues, such as “trusses on the verge of failure, to beams and a section of the floor that have already failed,” were identified that led him, and XXI, LLC, the investment group now pursuing demolition for new construction, to conclude demolition was the only option for developing more than the existing two floors.

I spoke to him last night in response to the Knox Heritage notice included below and he said he paid multiple “structural engineering, construction, architectural firms, and asbestos removal companies and 100% told me it is not salvageable.” He said they told him, “You bought a piece of land.”

Which brings us to the current statement by Knox Heritage:

On January 12, 2023, a permit application was filed with the City of Knoxville Plans Review & Inspections Division for the demolition of 115 E. Jackson Avenue, a contributing historic structure in the National Register of Historic Places’ Southern Terminal and Warehouse Historic District. Due to the building’s significant history, the permit is subject to a sixty (60) day demolition delay which will expire on March 13, 2023. The building owner, XXI Project, LLC, plans to build a mixed-use structure that will feature residential apartments, a boutique hotel, and a restaurant. XXI Project, LLC purchased the structure in June 2021.

115 E. Jackson Avenue was constructed ca. 1890 as the Knoxville branch of the Armour Packing Company, a nationally significant meat packing business from 1867 until 1983. 115 E. Jackson Avenue represents an area of Knoxville which, during the late 19th and early 20th century, became the wholesaling center for the city and the surrounding East Tennessee region. This building, along with all the structures comprising the historic district, illustrate the areas prominence in wholesale commerce from the late 1870s until the 1930s and the impact of the rail transportation on that commerce.

Historic Photo of 115 East Jackson Avenue (Background)

Knox Heritage is concerned for the domino effect this type of project will have on the Old City’s historic fabric as the area grows in popularity alongside the development of the mixed-use stadium. While the building to be demolished is modest in size and design, the one-story brick warehouse is characteristic of the historic district’s unique qualities.

Knox Heritage has visited the site and has had numerous conversations with a representative of the building’s owner. We understand the complexity of preserving the entire structure due to its existing conditions. However, we strongly encourage the preservation of the historic façade as the building’s total demolition would set a precedent for removing smaller historic buildings and replacing with large new construction.

Time is of the essence and Knox Heritage is requesting that the property owner discuss strategies for saving the façade from demolition. Knox Heritage is committed to assisting with this effort as new building and design plans are developed.

I asked Jim about the possibility of saving the façade and he reiterated the above, that it is not the original front of the building, which he said were once two buildings. He thinks the 1930s version seen today is the third iteration. He doesn’t see anyway to demolish the building and save the façade.

The proposed building that would replace the current building is called Excelsior and according to the website, “The building will be home to a mix of uses including residential apartments, a boutique hotel, a restaurant, a bar, and a few other exciting amenities. The development will also include on-site valet parking for visitors.” The website states, “Masonry elements, wood members, doors, windows, and steel will be re-used as much as possible, and where not possible on this site, we hope to see them put to good use elsewhere.”

115 East Jackson Avenue, Knoxville, February 2023

In the end, Knox Heritage is concerned that one approved demolition in the Old City will lead to others, increasingly damaging the historic fabric of that section of town as property values increase due to stadium development and economic pressures dictate that the older buildings don’t return adequate profit. While seeming to acknowledge the state of this building, they ask that the façade be preserved.

Increasingly, these will be the choices we face as downtown Knoxville property increases rapidly in value and more projects are proposed. It’s a slightly different situation than that which led to demolition of great buildings in favor of parking lots in previous decades. The new choices are more likely to be between a building we know, for better or worse, and one that is proposed, for better or worse. The answers are going to become more difficult as we go in this very small footprint we’ve designated as our downtown.

Ed. Note: I’m going to request that the conversation stick to the issues at hand and not to personalities. I’ll strongly consider deleting comments which are simply off-topic attacks. There is plenty to discuss and consider in this situation without diverting the conversation elsewhere. So what do you think? Should the building be preserved as is? Should the façade be preserved? Is there a danger of a domino effect if we start approving demolitions? Are you concerned about the loss of the historic fabric of downtown or is newer possibly better? Should all older buildings be preserved without question? Is it a property owner’s right to do as they please or should there be some civic engagement? Be kind and discuss.