Justifications Not Included

Loft living, just for the heck of it

Urban Renewal

by Matt Edens

Conventional wisdom holds that downtown living isn't all that kid friendly. And it's true that the under-18 demographic tends to be tiny in upscale urban areas across the country, populated in large part by empty nesters, single hipsters and others whose lifestyle choices don't include children. San Francisco, for instance, is famous for having more dogs than kids.

But that doesn't mean the increasing number of folks living in downtown Knoxville isn't good for the overwhelming majority of Knox County's kids that don't live anywhere near Market Square. The reason came up a couple weeks ago during debate about the County schools moving their central offices out of downtown's Andrew Johnson Building so that the space might be sold to a private developer (presumably, in light of the market, for a mixed-use conversion that's predominantly residential). The building, despite being stripped of most of its historic interior when converted to offices back in the '80s, would certainly make an attractive residential property.

But the real attraction for the county is getting the building back on the tax rolls, particularly with appraisals on high-end downtown residential property approaching $300 per square foot. The building may be in the city, but the city is also in the county, so downtown dwellers pay county taxes same as someone with a house in Halls (downtown, for those keeping score, kicks in more property tax to both city and county than Turkey Creek).

What makes downtown residential doubly attractive for the county is that, since downtown is in the city, the county doesn't have to provide nearly as many services as it would if those quarter to half-million dollar homes were in a new subdivision out in Halls, Hardin Valley or elsewhere. And, due to that conventional wisdom that downtown living isn't all that kid friendly, few loft dwellers require the primary and costliest service Knox County providesâ"the school systemâ"even though they pay taxes to support it. The same is largely true of gentrifying neighborhoods such as Fourth and Gill, whose growing percentage of child-rearing residents typically send the kids to private school.

The lack of kids means that many downtown lofts, such this one bedroom, two-bath unit in Gay Street's Commerce Building, are set up with singles or empty nesters in mind. Sure, the large office the current owner uses for his home-based business could easily be converted into a second bedroom, but who needs a guest room when there are a half-dozen hotels within walking distance? Instead, this large loft's nearly 2,000 square feet, fitted out with hardwood floors, exposed brick and a private balcony, offers a stunning, and surprisingly secluded retreat from the social whirl of living in the heart of the 100 block, surrounded by art galleries and eateries.  

But hey, if anybody asks, don't say you bought this loft because it was mere blocks from Market Square, the Old City and the Tennessee Theatre. Instead, tell 'em you did it â“for the children.â”  

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