Au Revoir Office Park

And say hello to rediscovered downtown digs

"In the industrial economy, people worked in factories. In the services/information economy, people worked in office parks. In the creative economy, people are working in downtowns." Or so says Neil Takemoto, the founder of the "crowdsource-based placemaking and economic development firm" Cooltown Beta Communities.

Now I rolled my eyes over "crowdsourced-based placemaking," just as much as you probably did. And I'm sure it would be easy to blow off his assertion about the "creative economy" as mere mumbo jumbo, the urban-planning equivalent to the "social media marketing" crap currently cluttering up your e-mail inbox and Facebook feed.

But the truth is corporate America is tiring of the suburbs and returning to downtown like so many empty nesters—or hipsters, since many companies cite attracting top young talent as a factor in their decision to set up shop downtown. In Seattle, Microsoft and Expedia are on the move. In Atlanta it's AT&T, and Target in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Quicken Loans has just moved 1,700 employees into downtown Detroit. Yes, Detroit... (Blue Cross Blue Shield is scheduled to add 3,000 more in 2011.)

Some of these companies are moving into old buildings—Adidas' and Amazon's new HQs, for instance, are both housed in old hospitals. Others are building new HQs on reclaimed brownfields. American Eagle's new Pittsburgh offices are where a steel mill once stood, while Pixar's new digs went up on the site of an old Del Monte cannery. "What we really wanted was to find a big, old brick building and rehabilitate it, but we couldn't, so we built it instead," said then CEO Steve Jobs.

Other than a few wild rumors regarding DeRoyal Industries, Knoxville's behind the curve. That's not all that surprising, considering the city's late start in the condo boom. But as the number of downtown dwellers grows, and the streetfronts along Gay fill, downtown's office space will, too. Some of the growth will come from old, staid standbys like banking and law, but most will be small tech and/or marketing-oriented companies, the sort whose employees skew towards the younger, educated demographic that's drawn to downtown. In other words, while it's unlikely Knoxville will land a Pixar, the city could launch the next one.

So, you enterprising entrepreneurs out there, why not get in on the ground floor? Or buy the whole building, for that matter? Church Street's Ely Building is currently available for sale or lease. Mixing exposed brick walls and original wood beams, its 11 private offices feature modern upgrades and amenities like Cat 5 wiring, a fully wired security system with keycard/intercom access, and a waterproof/fireproof storage vault—everything a wannabe Steve Jobs needs (other than a black mock turtleneck and a net worth north of $5 billion...).

The Ely Building

406 W. Church

6,033 sq. ft. (approx)


(lease at $15.00/sq. ft.)

Contact: George Brown

Wood Properties: