Park Yourself at Park Place, a Refurbished Junior High

The phrase "too big to fail" has been tossed around a lot of late, ironically in the context of institutions that are, in fact, failing. Big banks, big car companies, big government are actually quite capable of failure. It's just that if these things truly failed, we'd be, well, what's another six-letter word that starts with "F"?

It's the old saying about having all your eggs in one basket—an adage that applies pretty well to urban development. Consider the convention center. It's certainly a big building, put up on the premise of saving city's failing downtown. And, some eight years after it opened, the city continues to subsidize it heavily because it's, well, what's the phrase?

Knoxville's lucky that's the only big failure dotting downtown. Old-timers may recall Worsham Watkins, Renaissance Knoxville, or Universe Knoxville—developer-driven schemes to "save" downtown that were so big they failed to even get off the ground. (If you bought your condo in the last five years or so and the names are meaningless, you might have to ask around. The powers that be would rather pretend all that nonsense never happened.)

And yet, despite the failure of all those big projects designed to save it, downtown Knoxville's doing pretty well, largely because the local leadership has finally figured out a city's secret. Yes, they're big. But they achieve that size via the aggregate of hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of individual actions by actors of all sizes. Some, like David Dewhirst, might renovate a dozen buildings. Another, like Andie Ray, may open a single shop. But it all adds up, and together those individuals tackle what once appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle: transforming a seemingly dead downtown into a thriving city center.

Curiously, Knoxville's urban pioneers figured out that piecemeal approach to redevelopment long before the leadership caught on. In many of downtown's earliest condo projects, the individual units were sold as shells to be finished out by the buyer. That not only spread the risk—and cost—around at a time when banks weren't all that big on underwriting downtown projects, it also meant the resulting condos were anything but cookie cutter.

Consider Parkridge's Park Place, for instance. Originally Park Junior High, the units share certain characteristics that came with the building: high ceilings, big windows, and the size of the units (most were old classrooms). But within that template, no two are quite the same. (Over the years, I've probably been in about a dozen.) This unit, for instance, features built-in bookshelves flanking a gas fireplace, a galley kitchen with cabinetry that evokes a vintage butler's pantry, and an upper sleeping loft with exposed brick. m

Park Place, Unit 308

523 N. Bertrand St.

1,012 sq. ft.

2 bdrm/2 bath

$108,000

Contact: Jessica Rodocker

Horizon Realty: 523-9550

www.knoxvillager.com