"Midtown" Makeover

A newly renovated apartment building completes Bearden's chic appeal

414 Forest Park

Studio to 2 bedroom/1.5 bath | Starting from $725 to $915/month (utilities incuded) | 865-584-1424 | www.414forestpark.com

"The city should just admit that Bearden is downtown." The comment sounds strange now, out of context. But at the time, uttered in a moment of off-the-record candor by a former city official, it didn't sound so far-fetched. It was the late '90s. Downtown was, if not dead, at least dormant. And the idea of filling its storefronts up with restaurants and shops sounded like little more than a fantasy.

Bearden, on the other hand, was evolving into the eclectic mix of shops that populated the dreamscapes of downtown boosters, some of whom, reinforcing the "Bearden is downtown" point, were recent arrivals from the Old City. There were old mom-and-pop icons like Long's and Mayo, a thriving ethnic enclave over on Sutherland Avenue, gourmet groceries, mountain bikes, new-age gifts, futons, and mod furnishings—you could, and still can, get it all in Bearden.

Downtown has caught up considerably in the decade since. And the idea of dumping it and declaring Bearden downtown seems silly today. But the neighborhood has continued to thrive. If anything, things accelerated. Several shopping centers have been renovated. Others have been replaced outright. In either case, the new stores tend to be considerably more upscale than the ones they replaced.

The transformation may not be as noticeable as downtown, but Bearden is maturing into what I've come to consider Knoxville's "midtown." Much of it is as arty, eclectic, and upscale as downtown, but the area retains its own distinct identity. A relative lack of civic functions—all those big government buildings and gathering places downtown—account for some of the difference. But a lot of it is simply density. Bearden's gone upscale, but it hasn't gone up. It remains a relatively low-rise commercial strip backed up by suburban neighborhoods of single-family housing.

There is, however, one rather notable exception. The tallest building in Bearden by far, 414 Forest Park, would be taller than many downtown buildings, too. And, like many of the residential buildings downtown, it's fresh from a recent renovation. Built as an apartment building called the Carlton, the change hasn't been so drastic compared to converting an old warehouse or office building into condos. But the results are comparable. Outside, the façade has been freshened up. Inside, there's a totally redesigned lobby and brand new fitness center. Upstairs, there are new fixtures. Original wood parquet floors have been refinished and the kitchens and baths in each apartment have been upgraded with new cabinetry, slate tile, and sleek black appliances.

But the building's swankest feature may be up top. The original rooftop deck and pool have been totally refurbished, providing a great place to swim, relax, or simply take in the stunning view of, well, downtown.