Developers reveal latest plans for Kerns redevelopment

Betsy PickleSouth Knox

Thirteen months ago, developer Oliver Smith IV met with members of the South Knoxville Alliance to promote the Kerns Bakery redevelopment. Now another group of developers is meeting with SoKno groups – new faces with a familiar message.

Representatives from Johnson Architecture (Knoxville), Mallory & Evans Development (of Scottsdale, Ga., an Atlanta suburb) and Fulghum MacIndoe & Associates (Knoxville) gave a presentation to the Old Sevier Community Group last Thursday at South Knoxville Elementary School. Missing was Alex Dominguez of Region One Commercial (Atlanta), who sent regards but was with his wife celebrating her birthday.

The word of the evening – for the developers – was “excited.” The word describing the audience, which included invitees from other SoKno groups – was “cautious.”

They know the “overnight success” of South Knoxville’s rebirth happened over many years and many stumbles. This new page in the history of the old Kerns Bakery building could happen – or not.

Jimmy Ryan of Johnson Architecture was first at bat. Ryan spoke with zeal about the “iconic brick structure” and restoring the building to “its former glory.” But the 75,000-square-foot bakery is just one parcel of three.

The first phase of the development will be two five-story apartment buildings (with elevators!) on the back of the seven-acre site. Brantley Basinger and David McKenna of Mallory & Evans said the multifamily development will have 160 units, mostly two-bedroom/two-bath apartments with a few one-bedroom/one-bath units.

Unlike 303 Flats at the corner of Henley Street and Blount Avenue, the apartments will not be targeted toward the student market.

“Our amenity package is not student oriented,” said McKenna. Rent will be market rate, similar to River’s Edge and One Riverwalk, added Dawn Michelle Foster, director of the city’s Office of Redevelopment.

The bakery building is expected to be populated by restaurants, retail and offices.

“We’re really envisioning being kind of a cultural center with a lot of different food types and office spaces and retail,” said Ryan. “We’re really excited about that project.”

Ryan said they looked at “similar projects throughout the country,” including a couple in Georgia. “They’re both very vibrant spaces, very exciting spaces to get some food, to work. We’re also planning an outdoor lawn area that has a stage where it could be kind of similar to Market Square where there are concerts and events and markets and all those kinds of things. They’ll be exciting spaces to bring your family and hang out with your friends.”

Eateries will range from high end to small, preferably local food vendors. Customers will be able to dine in a central “eating hall” (the term “food court” was not used). Ryan said there would be a lot of natural light.

A second-story area “could be office space or bar with a rooftop deck.”

Aarron Gray, a civil engineer from Fulghum MacIndoe, has been hard at work on plans for the apartment phase of the development.

“Our goal was to get the buildings set generally on the grade that’s already been cut out there and not excavate and take the hillside,” he said. “I know the community doesn’t want to look at a big scar on the side of the hill.”

Gray raised concerns when he said that the complex intended to connect to Sherrod Road. Zoning created before the 1982 World’s Fair prohibits that link. Foster said they would look into it.

The Kerns site was added to the South Waterfront District and its form-based code, and Gray said, “Obviously, we would try to meet all the codes to the letter.” But he said they will request some variances. “Given the topography, it creates some weird scenarios that aren’t necessarily normal for the form-based code.”

The third phase of the development will be a separate building expected to house retail. Not the Aubrey’s Restaurant that restaurateur Randy Burleson jumped through hoops to fit into the site. The new team said that the Aubrey’s location was before their time and showed no inclination to woo Burleson back.

In addition to concerns about Sherrod Road and the lack of an Aubrey’s, attendees asked questions about parking, traffic, access to Fort Stanley and the status of the G&O rail-with-trail conceived by the Legacy Parks Foundation. The developers said they are working with Legacy Parks and G&O, and with the Aslan Foundation on Fort Stanley.

As for the parking and traffic issues, they said they would be doing studies and working with local government to make those work smoothly.

Basinger said they were hoping to have the apartments and the bakery building open by August 2020. “It will be a 12- to 14-month build-out process once we get going,” he said.

Old Sevier resident Bob Riehl made sure the evening ended on a light note, saying, “You know in this neighborhood, you have to have a craft brewery or you can’t open up.”

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