urban_renewal (2006-47)

There’s a window seat in Lincoln Park with your name on it

Sitting Pretty

by Matt Edens

In last week’s issue of Metro Pulse , at the end of an Insights column about the McClung warehouses on Jackson Avenue, Joe Sullivan wrote a fairly astonishing sentence, calling the long vacant structures “among the last of downtown’s historic buildings that remain to be restored.” At first I thought Joe was pushing it a bit, for argument’s sake. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he’s right. Jack Neely’s Secret History column in the same issue said it best: “Downtown renovations are happening so fast it’s like an arcade game: an old building renovation project popping up before we ever even notice it’s an old building in need of renovation.”

Knoxville neglected its downtown for a long time, but once the city and its upstart downtown development community found a formula for transforming the long-vacant buildings along Gay and elsewhere into lofts, they set to work with a will and quickly made up for lost time. The results of recent redevelopment efforts have been truly astonishing (and would be even more so if those last few empty eyesores weren’t so prominent to passersby on I-40). But rather than being almost done, I see downtown’s redevelopment as only beginning.

Knoxville has always taken a rather narrow view of what constitutes “downtown.” Official designations such as the Central Business Improvement District encompass just that, the central business district, a relatively tiny area not much bigger than West Town Mall and its parking lots. No wonder empty old buildings are suddenly in short supply. (Of course, Knoxville might have more historic buildings to restore if it hadn’t done such a thorough job knocking them down.)

Chattanooga, by comparison, takes a much broader view when it comes to defining downtown. In fact, a considerable amount of that city’s much ballyhooed “downtown Renaissance” has occurred outside of what is called downtown by Knoxville’s reckoning: the north shore, south-side and west-side neighborhoods like Fort Wood. Ever since its “downtown” redevelopment efforts began almost three decades ago, the city to the south seems to have an instinctive understanding of critical link between downtown as defined by the central business district and the core neighborhoods around it. They are the key market, the repeat customers and the real estate ready for revitalization’s expansion. Plus, as downtown redevelopment sends prices higher, the ’hoods help ease the demand for more affordable housing.

A short drive (or bus ride) down Broadway to downtown, this house on Banks Avenue in Lincoln Park is priced at less than $70 a square foot. That’s a third the going rate for downtown lofts—or less. And how many downtown lofts have a huge, 32-foot wide front porch or, inside, two fireplaces with original Victorian mantles? Other features include hardwood floors, original pocket doors, and a claw-foot tub. Oh, and there’s also a couple of cool window seats, which means that while some folks scramble to scrape up a quarter million to move downtown, you’ll be sitting pretty. m

607 Banks Ave.