City Council OKs purchase of old St. Mary’s site

Sandra ClarkInside 640, On the Grow

Knoxville City Council adopted resolutions May 7 that set the city on course to buy the former St. Mary’s hospital site at 800 E. Oak Hill Ave. As negotiated by deputy mayors David Brace and Bill Lyons, the deal has four components:

  • The city will take ownership of the land and multiple buildings. Office buildings will be gutted and repurposed as a Public Safety Complex, housing the police and fire departments, the municipal court and the city’s pension office. This motion drew the most debate and passed with a sole no vote, coming from at-large council member George Wallace.
  • Council approved a redevelopment plan for the property with a unanimous vote.
  • Council OK’d hiring McCarty Holsaple McCarty Inc. for professional architectural design services for the new complex for an amount not to exceed $2.6 million.
  • Finally, the council authorized the Industrial Development Board to negotiate a $16 million payment in lieu of taxes plan on two tracts of land on Middlebrook Pike where Tennova has announced a partnership with UT Medical Center to build a rehabilitation hospital. The only no vote came from council member Seema Singh-Perez.

Mayor Madeline Rogero and her staff had effectively lined up votes for this complex deal. Council members Mark Campen, Lauren Rider and Marshall Stair offered solid support. Rider and Stair live within yelling distance of the St. Mary’s site, but it actually lies in Campen’s District 5. Rider represents District 4, “across the street (Broadway),” while Stair is an at-large member.

Wallace advocated for new construction for the police and fire headquarters. “When you renovate a building, you’ll have functional compromises that you’ll live with for the life of that building. … No amount of renovation will make a 20-year-old building new again.”

Wallace continued: “There are ways to develop this property without taking ownership of it. Put out an RFP for a new building. That’s the best way for us to get the best product for the best price.”

Brace said the city has “done our homework,” including looking at relocating to the Knoxville College campus or the old Rule High School.

At St. Mary’s, the city would ultimately use what Brace calls the south campus, putting KPD and KFD near Fulton High School. The city would retain a 700-space parking garage that’s in good condition.

Lincoln Memorial University currently has 165 nursing students and staff at St. Mary’s, Brace said, and LMU board chair Pete DeBusk has talked to him about acquiring the tower.

Brace said the historic structure built in 1929 will be saved. Other old buildings will be demolished and the land offered for redevelopment after a plan is developed in consultation with the neighborhood.

He said the contract has a 120-day due diligence period. If the city finds really bad, unanticipated problems, it can cancel the deal.

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