Lying in Wait
Midsummer Night’s Nightmare
UT student’s assault case remains unsolved
Only one developer team showed for an informational meeting held to answer questions about a request for proposals out for restoration of the 500 block of Gay Street, which will soon contain an $11.5 million Regal movie theater.
John Craig and Wayne Blasius were the lone inquirers at the Sept. 27 meeting. “We haven’t decided [about how we’ll respond to the RFP] yet,” says Craig. “We’re still taking a look at that, going through the RFP and seeing if we can make things work. I know that there are several other folks that indicated that they were going to respond, but I don’t know where they were.”
Blasius says he and Craig aren’t even certain that they would submit a joint proposal, if they were to submit at all. The two have worked on previous projects together in Market Square and Fort Sanders.
Despite his fondness for the block, Blasius says he’s not sure what his final decision will be. “It’s a great group of buildings,” he says. “I’m very happy the mayor gave us the opportunity...to come up with a win-win situation where we can get the movie theater...and save a vast majority of the buildings. I think that the full project is going to be much better because of it, because we’ll still have a recognizable street front there.”
Both Blasius and Craig were members of Knox Heritage’s 500 Block Task Force, a group formed this past January to salvage the block from demolition. Blasius’ previous projects include Gay Street’s Phoenix Building and the nearby White Store building, where Mast General Store will be located.
John Kinsey, a developer with Chattanooga-based Kinsey Probasco, which handled renovation of Market Square, says, “At this point, I really don’t know [whether I’ll respond to the 500 block RFP].”
Another local developer, David Dewhirst, who owns parts of Market Square as well as the J.C. Penney Building on Gay Street and other downtown properties, says, “I don’t know right now [if I’ll reply to the RFP]. I’m studying it.”
Knox Heritage Executive Director Kim Trent says she’s sent out copies of the RFP to contacts she has in Nashville, Atlanta and “all over the country. It doesn’t matter to me where they’re from, as long as the project gets done,” she says. “We should cast the net as wide as possible to get the best development possible.”
The streetscape on the 500 block includes—from north to south—the Walgreen’s/Todd & Armistadt drugstore building (built in 1938 and more recently housing Gus’ Deli), The Gant Ogden Stationers Building (1913), the S&W cafeteria (1937), the former Athletic House (1923), the Central House Hotel/WROL Building (1875) and the former Hanover Shoes building (c. 1930).
The Walgreen’s building and The Gant Ogden Stationers Building will both be torn down due to compromised structural integrity. The Grant Ogden is under a city demolition contract. Those two structures framed the vacant spot left by the Riviera Theatre, which was demolished in 1988. In that space, and beyond it, the 1,951-seat Regal Cinema will be constructed by October 2006.
The fate of the Walgreen’s building was only recently determined during a meeting between the city, Public Building Authority officials and Knox Heritage representatives. The original design, announced by Mayor Haslam in April, included plans to thread a connection from the State Street garage through the old pharmacy and out onto Gay Street. The city says the new structure will favor the original building and will still use it as a connector to Gay Street.
Five hundred block proposals must be submitted by Tuesday, Nov. 8, and construction on the buildings must begin by June 2006.
Midsummer Night’s Nightmare
Marcus Balitsaris’ body can take a pounding. The 21-year-old University of Tennessee student has innumerable track and field credits to his name, has clocked a 95-minute half-marathon, and held his own in the boxing ring. And as a senior in mechanical engineering, he’s got the sturdy mind to match.
It was nothing short of a combination of these traits—youth, physical endurance and cognitive strength—that helped Balitsaris survive the events of July 16, when he was severely assaulted near the Old City and left for dead.
At 6:10 a.m., the Knoxville Police Department found his body beside the railroad crossing at Luttrell Street, near Jackson Avenue, after responding to a call from Northfolk Southern train conductor J.C. Willard. Willard saw the victim lying unconscious beside the tracks and activated the oncoming train’s whistle, but Balitsaris failed to respond. The train was able to stop only after passing him, and Willard assumed that he’d hit the body in the process. According the police report, “the victim had been struck by a train” and “appeared to have a severe head injury.” He was transported by EMS to the UT Medical Center, where he remained in ICU for six days.
Investigations into a possible assault began after medical examinations showed no indication of a train hit. “He was an inch away from the tracks, but he wasn’t hit by a train,” says Sally Balitsaris, Marcus’ mother. “He was hit by a crowbar or a railroad spike.”
Balitsaris has no recollection of the events leading up to his assault and little memory of the four weeks he spent in the hospital’s rehabilitation center after being released from ICU. “He remembers the last few days at Patricia Neal,” Sally explains. “If he could just remember some of the stuff leading up to it. We’d sure like to know who did it, and Marcus definitely wants to know. We have a pretty good idea, but we have no proof.”
The victim was last seen leaving Hanna’s in the Old City, where he’d been out with a group of about 15 friends, at approximately 1:30 a.m. Two people in the group left at the same time Balitsaris did, but they say they don’t know what happened to him.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” says investigating Detective John Kiely. “With that many people, we feel like one of his friends had to have been there or seen something, but nobody will talk. For one reason or another, these people are scared to come forward.”
Kiely has conducted multiple interviews and identified two suspects, both of whom left town after the incident and didn’t return until the beginning of the semester. At this point, however, there is no physical evidence to link them with the attack.
Sally says the family is considering hypnosis to aid Balitsaris’ memory recall. In addition, flyers posted throughout the Old City offer a reward for information; Kiely may be contacted at 215-7275. “We’re hoping that eventually someone will talk,” Sally says.
For now, Balitsaris’ recovery offers a solid source of optimism. He was released from physical/occupational therapy after only one session, though he still participates in outpatient speech therapy three times a week. Last week he was given permission to start driving again, and he insisted upon maintaining an abridged version of his fall semester class schedule—two classes instead of five.
“They didn’t recommend that he take any, but he wanted to,” says Sally. “He’s doing really well, much better than we could’ve expected. The doctor is just amazed. It had to have helped that he was young and in good condition and healthy.”
Balitsaris’ assault is a mother’s worst nightmare, and a frustrating setback for a full-speed-ahead college student, but the family is taking everything in stride. “It’s not a story we like to tell,” Sally says, “but we’re glad that it seems to have a happy ending.”
SEVEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER
Wednesday, Sept. 28
Thursday, Sept. 29
Friday, Sept. 30
Saturday, Oct. 1
Sunday, Oct. 2
Monday, Oct. 3
Tuesday, Oct. 4