Coming to a Center City Near You

A vision of things to come

Urban Renewal

by Matt Edens

Whether it's seeing the potential in a derelict old house or the opportunity offered by a once-neglected neighborhood now on its way up, vision is a common requirement for center-city revitalization. That sort of vision, unfortunately, has been in rather short supply in Knoxville until just recently. Conventional West Knoxville wisdom considered investing in Fourth and Gill in the '80s or staking a claim downtown in the '90s eccentric at best and, at worst, a fool's errand. But, with downtown lofts now listing for a half-million or more and Fourth and Gill Victorians regularly fetching more than a quarter million, those early investors suddenly seem shrewd.

Not that it was easy. Convincing Knoxvillians to settle in the center city wasn't like selling them on some new subdivision out off Pellissippi. It may take some vision to look out over a cornfield dotted with survey stakes and picture cul-de-sacs clustered around the golf course, but it doesn't quite compare to climbing a creaky set of stairs while dodging drips from the leaky roof and yet still managing to imagine raising your kids in the rundown wreck. There aren't many model homes in the center city (although, as a stand-in, several neighborhoods do host annual home tours) and artist renderings are rare.

That's beginning to change, though. In Old North Knoxville and Fourth and Gill, there are fewer and fewer homes left to restore, and downtown's loft developers are literally running out of empty buildings. Where renovation has been the rule, new construction is increasingly becoming a component in center-city revitalization. Not only are there new luxury lofts going up around the corner from Market Square, new high-end houses have started popping up in Knoxville's historic districts: first Fourth and Gill and Old North and now in Mechanicsville. Expanding into development, Market Square-based Smee & Busby Architects is currently building three upscale homes in the heart of Mechanicsville (with plans for two more). The first to be finished, this home at 237 Deaderick, could be considered a â“model home.â”

There's plenty to show off. Designed to blend into the surrounding historic homes with its wood siding, double-pane wood windows and metal roof, the house has a huge front porch and its corner lot comes complete with lots of landscaping and a new picket fence. Inside, the house has the same fit and finish buyers have come to expect from both high-end Fourth and Gill homes and downtown condos. There are hardwood floors and a gas fireplace with a beautifully refinished vintage mantle. The kitchen has stainless steel appliances, granite tops and cherry cabinets, while the baths contain double vanities and period touches like wainscoting or, in one case, a vintage clawfoot tub. Mere minutes from both downtown and the university, and mixing 100-year-old character and modern convenience, I suspect Knoxville will soon see more homes like it, on vacant lots across the center city.

237 Deaderick Ave. 2,251 S.F. 4 Bedroom, 3 Bath $271,900 Contact: Juli Neil The Knoxville Real Estate Company 558-1232


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