Fave Fixer-Upper

Gay Street's thinnest building is on the market

The Old Federal Bakery

412 S. Gay St.
6,000 sq. ft.
Dewhirst Properties

Many years ago, when I started writing this column for Metro Pulse, I always made sure to mention proximity to downtown as a plus when writing about some Fourth and Gill Victorian or Parkridge bungalow. At the time, the advantage was perhaps tough to see. Unless one was an attorney or TVA employee looking for a short commute, there wasn't much that living close to downtown could offer: the occasional concert, maybe, a few bars in the Old City, and the promise that someday, somehow, there might be more. Market Square, other than Tomato Head, didn't offer much. And Gay Street, other than a struggling brewpub that changed hands quicker than some folks could finish a pint, was a ghost town after five o'clock (and, to be honest, wasn't too lively at noon).

Things change. Nowadays, no one needs reminding that Fourth and Gill or Old North are close to downtown, and I'm pushing those Parkridge bungalows as an affordable alternative to quarter-million downtown condos. You can get sushi on Gay Street, a good pinot noir, original artwork, and outdoor gear. Market Square has more restaurants than just about any similar sized chunk of Knoxville real estate. And merchants like Bliss are setting up shop out west, not because they can't make it on the square, but to better keep up with the suburbs' insatiable need to sample some of downtown's vibe.

Don't get me wrong. There's still plenty of work to be done downtown, and more than a few fixer-uppers. One of the most intriguing may be this thin sliver of a building next door to Mast General Store, whose graceful bow-front façade and Neoclassical pediment I've always been fond of. Almost three years ago, a partnership consisting of developer David Dewhirst, architect Buzz Goss, and IT entrepreneur Patrick Hunt purchased the place, along with the adjacent J.C. Penny's store. The two, like a lot of downtown buildings, were connected. Once upon a time, the old department store needed to expand, bought the place next door, and punched through the dividing wall. Prior to being annexed by Penny's, the building hosted a variety of businesses, including the old Federal Bakery.

Now, as the old Penny's building next door is converted into a mixed-use condo and retail project, the old bakery has been re-parceled as a separate property and the partners are offering it for sale. Among the smaller buildings on S. Gay Street's 400 block, it'd make a lovely live/work space, if renovated into a storefront office/gallery/shop with two floors of living space above. There's even room for a large walkout roof deck atop the first floor, which extends further to the rear than the stories above.