Development details emerge for downtown sites

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Zoning Change Application Site, 516 and 520 Vine Avenue, Knoxville, August 2022

516 and 520 Vine Avenue

After a period of semi-calm, several points of interest for downtown development have emerged. Some details implied announced developments while others hinted at possible future developments. Taken together, the three included here seek to continue changing the face of the city, though the pace of that change may slow down for now.

First, a parcel at 516 and 520 Vine Avenue, currently owned by a subsidiary of LawlerWood, was before Knoxville/Knox County Planning yesterday with a rezoning application. Rezoning from DK-G to DK-B would allow, among other things, “structures that are only multi-family residences that do not have a ground floor retail or office.” The application has been approved and will now be before city council in September.

Aerial view of rezoning application site, 516 and 520 Vine Avenue, Knoxville, August 2022

Although specific plans have not emerged, there are indications that the planned project may have been delayed or temporarily suspended. The rezoning application had been delayed at the request of the applicants. Additionally, after being given an eviction deadline, the current commercial tenants at the address have been offered and accepted a new lease until next May.

At the earliest, it looks like that would be the start date for any new development on the site. If built at a considerable height, the new project would be highly visible on the city skyline, given its position on the hill at the northern end of the city center.

Newly Sold Property in Summit Hill and Central

Corner parking at Summit Hill and Central (130 South Central Street)

I’ll be honest and say that this parking lot has been on my radar for years as a potential site for development that would expand the old town and be about to reconnect it to what I call ‘downtown’. Although I don’t know the history of the place, I guess it’s likely that the buildings there were demolished with the construction of Summit Hill. Maybe someone can add a link on the story?

The land was recently owned by Leigh Burch and its sale to the Ephant Group was completed this week. The acquisition was managed by Oliver Smith IV and Will Sims of Liver Smith Realty and Development. I understand that the plans for the site include multi-family housing, although I don’t know the specifics. Obviously this is a place where one would hope for commercial space along Central and Willow.

Newly Sold Property in Summit Hill and Central
Map of parcels sold at the corner of Summit Hill and Central
1st Creek at rear of newly sold property in Summit Hill and Central

The site is more complicated than it seems at first sight. The lot is not rectangular in shape, due to First Creek crossing at an angle at the back of the lot. Given environmental protections that require any new structure to be away from waterways, the size of any potential construction on the site is necessarily small.

I spoke to Leigh Burch who said he thought the buyer had a great plan for the site and more importantly he would probably move forward with those plans faster than Mr Burch could have done with his. He said the offer came at the right time and he is happy the property is heading towards potentially faster development.

Future site of Capitol Lofts, Vine Avenue, Knoxville, May 2021

Capitol Lofts (on Vine Avenue)

While talking to Leigh Burch, I took the opportunity to ask about the status of the Capitol Lofts project. Announced here in June 2021, the 130-unit development was due to begin construction in March this year. The delay led to speculation over its future, but Mr Burch said the project was simply on hold.

Future site of Capitol Lofts, Vine Avenue, Knoxville, May 2021
Capitol Lofts Preliminary Rendering

The delay comes as costs have skyrocketed (it says the ballpark is facing the same issues) and it also anticipates new supply chain issues due to recent massive COVID lockdowns in China, where a number many of the initial problems have begun. He said they were within two weeks of signing all loan contracts and hiring contractors and sub-contractors when cost estimates increased by about 30% in nine months from $25 million to $32 million. This made the project unfeasible at the original estimated prices.

He said the volatility makes it nearly impossible to make deals with all the different parties. He noted that even though construction costs have now started to fall, interest rates are rising, which also has an impact on costs. “It’s a good project, but we’re waiting for things to settle down and trying to buy some time.”

So, like other projects, it happens, but it will come in time.

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