White Lily Building Sold; Some Apartments to be Sold

White Lily Lofts, 222 North Central Street, Knoxville, March 2024
White Lily Lofts, 222 North Central Street, Knoxville, March 2024

A major building, at 222 N. Central Street, owned by Dewhirst Properties, has been sold to Thomas Boyd and Will Sims. Constructed in 1885, the 50,000 square foot building operated as a factory making White Lily Flour until 2008. Soon afterward, it was purchased by Dewhirst Properties with plans to construct apartments. I toured in 2011 and expressed my skepticism at the time (I’ve learned better). Follow that link to see what the factory looked like then and my doubt might make more sense.

Almost three years later, in November 2014, with the building almost ready to open, I toured again. The building had been transformed. Take a look at those photos to see the finishes, the historical touches that remained, and the space before tenants moved in. I continued to doubt, wondering how many people would want to live that close to the railroad tracks.

With forty-six units, the answer very quickly was 46 people, couples, or families. Popular out the gate, with its proximity to the Old City, the building is only more central to development now with the increased habitation and construction to its north and west. My most recent glimpse came in 2015 on a City People Home Tour, which allowed me to see a furnished (and lovely) apartment. An interesting twist came when I realized the unit I would see was one of the units I had seen when it was under construction. To my earlier question: It was the first unit leased and it was the closest one to the tracks!

For the last nine years, the building has continued to be owned by Dewhirst properties, with the units being leased as apartments. The group recently reached an agreement with Boyd and Sims to sell the building, with the closing happening mid-day today, with a sale price of $12.75 million.

The two plan to convert some portion of the units to condos, though the precise ratio has yet to be determined. The tenants have been notified and for the units being converted, they have been given first option to purchase. Some have already agreed, while others are making plans to move. As leases expire, about a third of the units may be sold. It’s possible some will be sold as rentals with the potential the same tenants will continue living there.

When the two purchased the JFG Building just over two years ago, they made clear the units in that building would remain apartments. The concern we all shared at the time was that so many condos are purchased downtown and then sit empty most of the time while the owners drop in on occasion. This serves to reduce economic support for downtown businesses and makes a tight housing market event tighter.

White Lily Lofts, 222 North Central Street, Knoxville, March 2024

For this project, the two plan a blend and I asked why they made that shift. Boyd said, “The climate is such that it makes it a necessity to condo. Things are more expensive than ever and interest rates are really high. It’s a natural way it goes.” They hope to find owners who will make the units their home, and contribute to local businesses on a regular basis, but they can’t control that. “It’s hard to make money at that purchase price with rentals. Rents would exceed the highest we’ve ever seen downtown if we were to buy at $600 per square foot.” The commercial unit, currently occupied by Riverside Tattoo will not be impacted.

Some units may be updated, if needed, but most are in good shape and were nicely built out from the beginning. The square footage ranges from 450 square feet to 1400 square feet. Sims said, “The bulk are in the 800 to 1,000 range.” The two haven’t set all the pricing, but with current downtown units selling for $500 to $600+ per square foot, that would be a good guess. They did note that there is a range in terms of views, architectural interest, light, and exposure to the tracks which can move the price point up or down.

Of the units Boyd said, “They (Dewhirst Properties) always had a good eye for that. They really did a good job of preserving a lot of the historical character in the building. Mark and David cared about downtown and had an eye for that . . . they are wonky and they don’t make a ton of sense in a lot of ways, but in a cool way.” He said he’s happy they aren’t simply boxes that are apartments, but have their own personality. Sims added, They are pleased by “giving people the option and ability to buy a piece of a historical building.” Another perk is that parking is currently available for residents across the street, something not readily found downtown.

In recent downtown history there have been few historic buildings that have offered a significant group of condos for sale at once, making this a unique opportunity for people looking to live in an older building. The recent Sterchi Building conversions and the current Century Building offerings are the first as a group since the Daylight Building in 2016. That was also a Dewhirst apartment building converted to condos. There simply aren’t that many older downtown buildings that haven’t already been converted.

If anyone is interested in leasing or purchasing a unit, feel free to reach out at leasing@jcgknox.com, call them at 865-364-0901, or complete the template here. You can also contact Will directly at will@oliversmithrealty.com.