citybeat (2007-47)

4 Market Square

City Beat

Cornerstone Foundation funds a new community center with Christian fellowship residences

by Barry Henderson

A non-profit corporation spurred into being by Mayor Bill Haslam and his familyâ’s philanthropy is in the process of converting a pair of buildings on Market Square to a variety of uses, including a new restaurant and a community center, along with housing for a dozen members of a Christian Leadership Development program new to Knoxville.

The construction, which is responsible for the protective, winding plywood pathway to the old Millerâ’s Building from the square, is being funded through an arm of Knoxvilleâ’s Cornerstone Foundation, which will turn over the buildings to the non-profit on completion.

Rick Kuhlman, who is about to be named executive director of 4 Market Square, a 501(c)3 charitable educational and religious organization that will operate the renovated buildings as one, says the construction phase currently underway wonâ’t be competed until late next summer.

The three principal components of the structure will include a restaurant operated by Charles Irvine (the owner of Sullivanâ’s Fine Food of Rocky Hill and Maryville), a community hall with a stage and seating for about 300, and two floors of living space for Knoxville Fellows, recent college graduates who will be immersed in Knoxville civic life.

The hall, called The Square Room, will be available for everything from artistic performances to forums and lectures, banquets and weddings, â“and a host of other community gatherings, both secular and sacred,â” according to Kuhlman, who says the restaurant will have â“fast-casualâ” counter ordering for lunch and breakfast hours and table service for dinner.

A Knoxvillian who once owned Stefanoâ’s Pizza on the Strip and is retired from the Air Force Reserves after 30 years service, Kuhlman says Laurens Tullock, the executive director of the Cornerstone Foundation of Knoxville, contacted him last year about operating the 4 Market Square project.

Inclusion of the Knoxville Fellows program, a franchise of the Fellows Initiative, a Christian leadership organization in Falls Church, Va., was what interested Kuhlman, he says. â“I saw what the vision was and got really excited about it.â”

The program picks 12 young people, six men and six women, for inclusion in the 10-month-long fellowships. There are several components, including mentoring by mature Knoxville men and women, regular meetings with leaders of the cityâ’s business, government, and non-profit sectors, volunteer service, and internships in public and private institutions. It eventually will offer seminary credit once a religion course to be taught by Doug Bannister, the pastor of the All Soulsâ’ Church in downtown Knoxville, is certified.

Although the mayor was an original promoter of the program, there is no government money involved, Kuhlman says. He says the Haslam family participates as part of an effort to â“to keep the best and brightest involved in Knoxvilleâ’s future.â”

The current crop of fellows, living in space rented for them in the Sterchi Lofts, includes mostly recent UT grads or graduate students. There are teachers, a nurse, a church employee, a commercial real-estate brokerage employee, a translator, and a baker among them.

Austin Church, a 24-year-old Nashvillian who taught high-school English for a year before becoming a graduate student in English at UT in Knoxville, says the concept of â“an intentional Christian communityâ” attracted him to the program: â“I like the idea of worshipping, serving, eating, studying, living and working with other Christians.â”

Itâ’s an interesting result for the handsome brick-and-marble-front buildings near the southeastern corner of Market Square, which not long ago had been touted, with elaborate if premature signage, as a future comedy club.

The larger of the two adjacent buildings dates to about 1915, when it housed Andersonâ’s Grocery; it later hosted Kinneyâ’s Shoes and part of the Millerâ’s Annex. The smaller building at No. 8 is believed to be a little newer, ca. 1920s, when it was home to a Greek-owned restaurant called the Silver Moon, and later a womenâ’s fashion shop called Levisonâ’s and later The Vogue. In the â‘90s, the downstairs had been a series of restaurants and delis, while the upstairs floors belonged to Cyberflix, the maverick video-game company that created and marketed their million-seller Titanic here and brought a high-tech hipster vibe to Market Square.

Meanwhile, the Market Square resurgence seemed to be working everywhere except in these buildings, long controlled by an out-of-state owner, as their boarded-up plywood fronts have served mainly as a sort of bulletin board for announcing nightclub events. Lately, that wall has featured a flat-screen TV which shows interior renderings of the building by Smee + Busby, the young architectural firm located across the Square that is working on the project.

Every lively new use of a vacant space enhances the cityâ"though some may soon begin to worry where nightclubs are going to advertise their shows. A lack of neglected downtown buildings has never been much of an issue in the past.

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