citybeat (2006-19)

A roundup of recent downtown real-estate developments

Wednesday, May 3

Construction Zone

The alleyway that runs between the Emporium Center and Fire Street Lofts was originally designed to allow better access to Gay Street’s 100 Block buildings in case of a fire, a utilitarian design that didn’t take aesthetics into consideration. Today, that narrow, dingy thoroughfare receives very little traffic, save a few late night winos enjoying an aimless tour of the Old City. But, as the 100 Block and Jackson Avenue see more major redevelopment projects, downtown developers plan to show the dirty alley some much needed love.

In 2004, David Dewhirst became the first developer in the city to receive tax increment financing (TIF) for the redevelopment of a rundown industrial building on Jackson. Two years later, 28 residential units were completed and sold, with the most opulent units going for over $300,000. More are already under construction in the basement, with access to the fire street.

“We’ve gone ahead and devised three suites there,” says Tom Grace, marketing manager for Fire Street Lofts, “to create more of an artists’ gallery location.... Five separate units are still under construction, in a rougher stage.”

Artistic renderings of what the alley may look like in the future, if redevelopment efforts go according to plan, show a cobblestone walkway, beautified with strategically-placed shrubbery, walk-in cafés and, of course, a steady flow of pedestrians.

Grace says that more than $200,000 is needed for the street’s redevelopment, a price tag that Dewhirst Properties and the city will share. “We’re kinda waiting on the city to do their infrastructure work,” Grace says. “We’re on the sidelines, waiting.”

The nearby Commerce Lofts also have a commercial/public space in the works, which will extend the redevelopment farther up the alleyway, toward Summit Hill.

In other recent downtown real estate developments, the Farragut Building has changed hands and is reportedly headed for refurbishment as office space. The 1917 building, built as a hotel and rehabbed into offices more than 30 years ago, was slated for renovation as apartments last year, but Holrob Investments’ Bob Talbott says that, ultimately, “the numbers wouldn’t work” for apartments. Attorney Bob Worthington, trustee for the former owners, says that a Johnson City firm bought the building for $3.44 million.

Worthington says that bringing the office space up a class or two would cost far less than converting it to residential uses, and that the buyers, who current tenants say include some New York investors, concluded that the boom in residential development downtown means that more top-tier office space is needed at this time.

The Holrob group bought the Daylight Building on Union Avenue a few months ago, Talbott says, and has offered it for lease. There are “some other, alternative ideas kicking around,” Talbott says, but right now the entire building is on the lease market.

Denny Ledford, owner of the Union Avenue Barber Shop that has been in the Daylight Building the last several years, says he is moving the business to the Althea Building at Walnut and Clinch Avenue this month. Ledford says the entry will be on Walnut Street, but the shop will retain its Union Avenue name. “It’s had that name for 90 years. I don’t see us changing it now,” he says, pointing out that the Church Street United Methodist Church hasn’t been on Church for about 75 years.

Construction of 47 condominium units on seven floors of the Candy Factory building in the World’s Fair Park begins next week, according to Brian Conley of Cardinal Development and Cardinal Construction. Conley, who also owns Metro Pulse , says the units will range in size from 778 square feet to 1,472 square feet and in price from $143,000 to $345,000. The Chocolate Factory has been offered lease or purchase terms on its ground-floor space, and if an agreement is reached, it will remain in its present location during and after construction of the condos, Conley says.

The 24 condos Cardinal is developing as the New Union Lofts adjacent to the Market Square Parking Garage are expected to go into construction in June, Conley says. To be built by EMJ Construction of Chattanooga, the units will run from 1,228 square feet at $289,000 to 1,576 square feet in the $453,000 penthouse, he says.

Mast General Store , the retail emporium set to occupy the ground floor and basement of the former White Store in the 400 block of S. Gay Street, is nearing completion of its renovations, and its owners say the target date for a grand opening of Aug. 14 will be met.

The Carolina-based popular provider of eclectic lines of clothing, outdoor items, candies, foodstuffs, gifts and sundries, will be the first major retailer to open anywhere downtown in decades. Construction of the Regal Cinemas cineplex on the 500 block, where site preparation is nearing completion, has been delayed again, but the city says the project will proceed toward a later opening.

Two apartment buildings at Church Avenue and State Street, closed by the city due to codes violations, are empty of tenants and are being eyed for purchase and upgrades, says Kimberly Hamilton a realtor specializing in downtown properties.

Hamilton says several developers have been in contact with owner Bob Monday about the prospects for buying the Elliott facing Church or the Glencoe around the corner on State.

Both have been low-rent apartment properties, but bringing them up to code and refurbishing their interiors for rental or condo uses would drive the prices of occupancy way up for future residents, Hamilton says.

At the former KUB building , up the street from the Elliott at the corner of Church and Gay, co-owner Don Bosch, a local attorney, confirms that he and partner Rod Townsend, Jr. are under contract to sell the property to developer Kenn Davin sometime this month. Davin has said he plans to convert the facility to mixed-used commercial and residential property, including a new eatery connected with popular Sevierville restaurateur Chef Jock.

A quick tour of Market Square ’s perimeter reveals a healthy smattering of in-the-works chaos, all dust, whining drills and determined-looking construction workers. “We’re closing in on a 50, 60 percent occupancy rate. Once we reach that, we’ll reach 70 or 80 pretty fast,” says Scott Schimmel, vice-president of the Market Square District Association and co-owner of Bliss and Bliss+Home. 

Salon Visage ’s façade is plastered with posters announcing its grand opening in June. A few storefronts down, each of Salon Barnes & Barnes ’ five stylists have their hands full, snipping and shampooing clients’ hair. The square has treated the urban-chic salon well, says co-owner Debbie Barnes, since it moved here from the Old City just six weeks ago.

Starting this Saturday, square visitors will have a new dining option: La Costa , serving “Nuevo Latino cuisine with a fresh twist.” Today, owner Gregg White is busy with final preparations for its opening. Within the span of a walk across an Old City parking lot, his cell phone rings twice, and his mind seems occupied with the logistics of lighting, dishes and those barstools that haven’t yet arrived. “I’m excited, though,” he says, waving goodbye as he turns back toward his other restaurant, Gay Street’s Nama.

Schimmel explains that Koi , a 4,000-square-foot restaurant serving pan-Asian and Thai, is also expected to open within the next couple of weeks, and a contract has been signed for another not-yet-named dining establishing in another old Watson’s space. Plans for a grocer on the square, as was previously proposed, have “fallen off the map” according to Schimmel, but he notes that there are still a few spaces left open and hopefully someone else will pick up the ball.

The Nelsons, who own the space at 14 Market Square , located next to Tomato Head and previously occupied by Through the Lens Gallery, are taking their time finding a new occupant, but Schimmel says they’ve got some options on the table.

The persisting question in downtown redevelopment has been the fate of the old McClung Warehouse buildings on West Jackson. At one time, the aforementioned Kenn Davin appeared close to purchasing the buildings outright from owner Mark Saroff, possibly saving them from condemnation by KCDC. Saroff has owned the buildings for well more than a decade, but has yet to establish he has the wherewithal to redevelop them.

Saroff’s attorney, Mark Siegel, refused comment when asked about Saroff’s current plans. But Davin confirmed that his deal with Saroff has fallen through, adding that he has filed a lien on the property because he says Saroff has yet to pay him for construction Davin performed on the buildings when the transaction appeared imminent. The buildings had fallen into considerable disrepair, and KCDC has said that blight remediation needs to be a priority if Saroff wants to avoid condemnation.

“(Saroff) wanted to make a deal where he would be able to buy back one of the buildings,” Davin says. “I said hell no, and the deal blew up at that point. I’m over it; I’m through dealing with him.”

Davin says he had offered to pay Saroff up to $9.5 million for the four buildings—a sum he admits far exceeds their assessed value—depending on whether the city would grant him TIF to alleviate development costs.

According to KCDC executive director Alvin Nance, the work apparently performed by Davin on the warehouses has satisfied most of KCDC’s immediate concerns regarding blight remediation. Saroff has also reportedly applied for and received a small façade grant to further the repairs.

But Nance says Saroff must still prove to KCDC that he has a solid financial commitment backing his redevelopment plans, and a timeline for putting them into action.

“We understand he has a basic plan for a residential development, but we want something that’s not just open-ended,” Nance says. “We also have a letter from someone making a financial commitment to the plan, and we’re still in the process of verifying that financial commitment.”

Nance says that, based on Saroff’s ability to present a workable plan, he will make a recommendation on the McClung Warehouses to the KCDC board in time for its meeting in late June.


Wednesday, May 3

Thursday, May 4

Friday, May 5

Saturday, May 6

Sunday, May 7

Monday, May 8

Tuesday, May 9