A city press release about economic growth in Knoxville during 2017 set us wondering what business leaders are seeing. We caught up with Dave Miller, president of First Tennessee’s East Region, who said:
“The economic activity in Knoxville is significant and exciting. With our downtown headquarters, right in the epicenter of much of the growth, we feel it and see it daily.
“In fact, we’ve also added upwards of 10 people to our Gay Street offices in recent months. That activity is being reflected in our business and in our clients.
“We see strong interest for existing and potential clients in development projects as well as in expansion of their businesses. Most clients report very solid trends in their business over 2017 and optimism into 2018.
“As a result, profitability in our business is up over 30 percent versus 2016. I continue to be impressed with the mayor, her vision for the city, her sensitivity to business interests, and her desire to see Knoxville thrive economically.”
That’s high praise for Madeline Rogero, who was not known as the “business candidate” during her campaigns for mayor. Forget the campaign rhetoric, Rogero’s year-end report is strong.
For the first 11 months of 2017, the city issued building permits for construction projects in all areas valued at nearly half a billion dollars – a 12.8 percent increase compared with the same 11-month period in 2016.
A new Hyatt Place, in the historic Farragut Hotel building, will open in late December. The hotel will feature 165 rooms, a rooftop bar and event space, and a street-level Starbucks. It’s a $25 million investment that brings back into reuse a vacant nine-story grand hotel building with a storied past.
The Tombras Group is finishing its $10 million restoration of the former KUB building. A January move-in is likely. The once green building at Gay Street and Church Avenue had stood vacant for more than 16 years. The 50,000-square-foot building will feature a new color scheme and modern, open design – with rooftop and outdoor patios.
A 144-room Courtyard by Marriott and 88-room Residence Inn are going up at the intersection of Church Avenue and State Street, where the News Sentinel and Journal were published for decades. The tract has been vacant for almost 20 years. The 166,000-square-foot hotels, a more than $40 million investment, will open in 2018.
Embassy Suites is coming to the 500 block of Gay Street. The $37 million project involves transitioning a 13-story office and former bank building, the Conley Building, into a 160-room hotel with a restaurant and a rooftop bar. The Embassy Suites is expected to open in spring 2019.
Regas Square, a $40 million mixed-use project with more than 100 condominiums, is on track to open next year on Depot Avenue.
The Crozier, a mixed-use development with luxury condos, offices and retail space at Central Street and Willow Avenue, is underway. This more than $7 million project is scheduled to open in 2018.
By this time next year, a six-block section of Magnolia Avenue will be on its way toward a streetscape transformation.
The right-of-way process will continue through late February 2018, with construction expected to start by summer 2018.
Magnolia Avenue is already a “complete street,” accommodating motorists, bicyclists, transit riders and pedestrians. The multi-million-dollar infrastructure upgrades will encourage neighborhood-serving commercial development along Magnolia between Jessamine and N. Bertrand streets. It is slated to be complete by fall 2019.
Proposed improvements include a gateway monument entry sign; raised landscaped center median and designated left-turn locations; improved bike lanes; and bus pull-offs. Underground utility lines will also be upgraded, and new street trees and landscaping will be planted.
Streetscape amenities include attractive new street and pedestrian scaled lighting, wider sidewalks, benches and bike racks. Three major signalized intersections will be upgraded and will include colored stamped asphalt crosswalks to enhance both aesthetics and pedestrian safety.
New apartments and a newly renovated office building are returning vibrancy to a section of the riverfront that’s been dormant and unoccupied since 2008. By this time next year, more than 1,200 people will be living and working on a stretch of the South Waterfront near the Henley and Gay Street bridges.
One big milestone in 2017 was the renovation of a nine-story 178,000-square-foot city-owned $12 million office building. Regal Entertainment Group has contracted with the city to move its 400 employees into the office space.
Two new apartment complexes will open by next fall – the $60 million Riverwalk at the Bridges and the $40 million 303 Flats student apartments.
Streetscape improvements, riverwalk construction and the addition of other amenities will continue in 2018, including 1,550 feet of new riverwalk and a 37,500-square-foot public plaza at the Henley Bridge.
Also coming in 2018: The right-of-way process gets underway on Sevier Avenue, with a multi-million-dollar streetscape improvement project to follow. Upgrades will include bike lanes, improved sidewalks, street lighting, on-street parking and a new roundabout at the Sevier Avenue, Island Home Avenue and Foggy Bottom Street intersections.
The city’s two-year top-to-bottom reconstruction of Cumberland Avenue is virtually complete with 93 trees to be planted this month.
The public investment of $25 million has helped leverage more than $190 million in private investment to date, Rogero said.
Two new apartment buildings, The Standard and Evolve, have opened since 2014, and a third – the TENN Student Living redevelopment project being constructed at 1830 Cumberland – is scheduled to open next year.
Combined, the three properties will be home to about 1,450 students.