Andrew Johnson Building to be Redeveloped: A Look at LHP/Conversion Property’s Proposal

Andrew Johnson Building, 912 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2017

It may be a turning point of a more subtle sort. We’ve talked about the shift from converting derelict downtown buildings into modern uses – often residences. The supply of downtrodden buildings has dwindled and most activity in the center city has shifted to ground-up construction. This might appear to be more of the former, but it isn’t.

Instead, this marks one of the first shifts from a building which is largely utilized and cared, though perhaps underutilized, to, hopefully, a better use. Built as an elegant hotel and Knoxville’s tallest building in 1930, it served that purpose into the 1970s, but was converted to office space in the 1980s.

Andrew Johnson Building, 912 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2017

The history of the hotel, complete with a lengthy list of celebrity visits including Lyndon Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and most famously, Hank Williams, parallels the 20th century rise and fall of our downtown. At its beginnings, the hotel benefited from a new national park and the rise of TVA. By its demise, it reflected the flight from the city to the suburbs.

Converted to office space, it is currently owned by Knox County – and thus off the tax rolls – and is largely home to the Knox County Schools’ central administration. It’s a use that preserved the building during a particularly dark period in the city and the county’s ownership might well have been its salvation. Times have changed, however, and the building could now very valuable to downtown, contributing to a greater degree with another use.

LHP/Conversion Renderings, Andrew Johnson Building, 912 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2017

LHP/Conversion Renderings, Andrew Johnson Building, 912 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2017

LHP/Conversion Renderings, Andrew Johnson Building, 912 South Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2017

This is the second time the county has offered the building for sale and requested proposals for re-development. The first time, several years ago, resulted in no acceptable proposal. Just a few short years later and the downtown environment has shifted substantially enough that no less than seven developers submitted proposals. The county will evaluate each proposal based on a 100 point scale with up to 30 points each awarded for intended use, quality of rehabilitation and the developer’s experience. The final ten points will be awarded for price.

I met with LHP chairman Phillip Lawson and CEO Carey Parker, along with Joe Petre of Conversion Properties, who have jointly submitted one of the seven proposals. Joe and Phillip worked for the same company years ago and decided, on Joe’s suggestion to team up for this project. LHP is responsible for a number of downtown buildings, including the City County Building and the Whittle Building which is currently the federal courthouse. Conversion Properties has also completed numerous projects and is currently underway with the high profile Regas Square Condominium project.

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Help Pick the People’s Choice Sculpture (and hunt for Waldo while you’re at it)

Gwendolyn Kerney, “Dreams of Flight,” Metal, $4,000, Krutch Park, Art in Public Places, Knoxville, July 2017

Every spring one of the most exciting parts of downtown’s re-emergence from the cold, hard reality of winter is the fact that colorful, often whimsical and sometimes beautiful or moving sculptures begin to spring up on Krutch Park. Art in Public Places features large scale sculptures that are installed around the area, but are particularly concentrated in downtown Knoxville. This year’s selections, “were juried by artist John Douglas Powers, Assistant Professor of Sculpture at The University of Tennessee. In 2016, Powers was named a Guggenheim Fellow.”

It’s an interesting approach to providing art for the city. We aren’t blessed with the large-scale sculptures that some cities boast, though we do have a few. Sculpture is a great fit for public art and it’s a significant attraction. If you don’t think so, take a bench in Krutch Park and watch person after person engage the art in some way or another. The permanent sculptures make an impact, as well: watch for a while any given day and you’ll see one visitor after another having their picture made with our suffragist women on Market Square.

Carl Billingsley, “Check,” Painted Steel, $2800, Art in Public Places, Krutch Park, Knoxville, July 2017

Gwendolyn Kerney, “Lucky Lady,” Steel, $4,000, Art in Public Places, Krutch Park, Knoxville, July 2017

Hanna Jubran, “Earth Fire Water Wind,” Painted Steel, $24,000, Art in Public Places, Summit Hill and Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2017

Will Vannerson, “Borbor 9,” Galvanized Steel, $8,000, Art in Public Places, Krutch Park, Knoxville, July 2017

Art in Public Places began in 2007 in an effort to both support local and regional (and now some national) artists, but also to begin framing Knoxville and it’s creative culture as a destination for the arts. Eddie Mannis and Bart Watkins provided the energy behind the initial push and Prestige Cleaners (Mr. Mannis’ business) continues to sponsor some of the works. According to Dogwood Arts, about 2.5 million people see the works in the McGhee Tyson Airport while an estimated (and eye-popping for our city) 13 million will see the downtown sculptures through the course of the year.

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Kickstand Prepares to Provide Necessary Cycling Infrastructure; Could Use Your Help

I've mentioned Kickstand several times over the years. It's been just over three years since I wrote a full article about the group. In that time they've continued their mission of putting bikes in the hands of children and adults who need them. Some … [Continue reading]

Downtown Knoxville Ten Day Planner (7/16 – 7/25/2017)

If you want to be certain your event is included on this calendar, I’ll need your event two weeks in advance. The absolute best way to make sure I include your event is to make a FB event and invite me – two weeks in advance. My FB “events” are the … [Continue reading]

Landing House Opens on Sevier Avenue

Activity on the south side of the river continues to grow rapidly as the number of new businesses proliferates. The latest is Landing House at 1147 Sevier Avenue in an area that has become one of the hottest on that side of the river. With Suttree … [Continue reading]