commentary (2005-35)

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Bulldozers on Broadway

Compromising the new hip of Old North and Fourth and Gill


Bulldozers on Broadway

by Matt Edens

Last week was a tough week for historic preservation. First, early Monday morning, arsonists torched a historic home in Old North Knoxville. The house, which had sat empty for years, had recently been restored by Knox Heritage and was days away from being transferred to new owners. Then, just hours later, 10 members of County Commission voted no on the proposed sale of South High to developer Leigh Burch, essentially torching a redevelopment deal for the long vacant school that had been years in the making (oh, and a note to Paul Pinkston, just because you blew off the meetings doesn’t mean there wasn’t adequate public participation…).

Luckily, neither the house nor the school appear to be a total loss. In Old North Knoxville, the prospective homeowners remain committed and Knox Heritage is working with the insurance company to repair the damage. And the non-profit, who played a major role in the South High redevelopment deal, is likewise working with county government to swing an alternate solution for South High.

But there was another loss last week that didn’t make headlines. On Wednesday, a wrecking ball and bulldozers began demolishing the old Sunday School building of Broadway Baptist Church. Built around 1928, the three-story, Florentine Revival style building was one of the largest historic buildings on Broadway. But, since it stood outside the boundaries of the nearby Old North Knoxville and Fourth and Gill historic districts, there was nothing standing in the way of its demolition. And, unlike the other two blows to preservation this past week, this one was irreversible.  No amount of insurance money or political maneuvering can get that building back.

Now the building wasn’t torn down for anything as asinine as a putting green or parking lot—the church sold the property to a private developer who is putting in a an assisted living center for seniors. The new building’s design isn’t bad, either—modernist, but also urbanist, a three-story structure that sits up against the sidewalk, rather than behind a parking lot. In fact, if it were to be built on any of the numerous vacant lots along that stretch of Broadway, I would have been among the first to applaud. But instead, we’ve gained some senior housing at the expense of one of Broadway’s finest buildings. Which seems like a damn shame to me, as well as a missed opportunity.

Prior to last week’s spate of preservation losses, I was planning to write this column on how there were signs of a renaissance stirring along Central. The Corner Lounge, just around the corner from Broadway Baptist, has recently reopened as a prime venue for live music, while further up the street, businesses like the Time Warp Tea Room and the new Taoist Tai Chi Center next door are evidence that something is happening along this long-moribund stretch of Central. And two things, if you ask me, are central to this recent activity. 

The first is that the nearby neighborhoods of Old North Knoxville and Fourth and Gill have matured to the point that they provide a market for things like Tai Chi and Tea (and the recent groundbreaking in Fourth and Gill for the first of three new upscale homes being built on the site of the old McCallie School, about a block from Broadway Baptist, indicate that area’s strong residential market shows no signs of letting up.).

The second is that, as venues such as Market Square become more mainstream in their appeal, the pioneers, punk-rockers and self-styled expatriates from mainstream society who tend to be the leading wave of urban redevelopment will seek seedier surroundings to drink their beer and listen to their bands and, in the process, plant the seeds of redevelopment all over again. In fact, if you’ve been down Scott, Glenwood or Luttrell lately, you realize the yuppies are already at the gates—no wonder you can suddenly get a good latte on Central. Can condos be far behind?

It’s inevitable, really as Old North and Fourth and Gill fill up and the prices for downtown condos continue to go up. There is, however, one obstacle the area will have to overcome. Compared to downtown proper, Central and Broadway have far fewer buildings begging to be converted into lofts. And, unfortunately, we just bulldozed one of the best ones.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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