Maybe Mike Chase is running for mayor. Or maybe he isn’t. But he says he’s seriously considering it.
Here’s what’s certain: Chase is mad; so mad that he – the guy who used to be Knox County’s go-to-most funder for candidates with Ds after their names – has become a Republican. A Trump-supporting Republican.
The redesign of Cumberland Avenue is probably what lawyers would call the proximate cause of his irritation, but most likely it’s just the last straw. He’s tired of being screwed over by government.
Chase is a friendly, voluble guy who is not known for suffering in silence, and it’s no secret that the Copper Cellar Corporation CEO has been doing a slow burn over the Cumberland Avenue Corridor Project since it was announced as a concept plan nearly 10 years ago.
The messy 28-month construction process of redesigning the funky old college town street that squeezed down four lanes of traffic (sometimes slowly) to two through lanes and a turn lane between Alcoa Highway and 16th Street was bad enough, but Chase isn’t any happier now. Traffic is still snarled and customers can’t make a left turn from the eastbound lane into his parking lot. He’s losing money and he’s fed up.
He and some partners bought the Copper Cellar in 1975 after its original owners ran afoul of the law and had to unload the small but lavishly appointed saloon located in the basement of an old building on the Strip. Its gleaming copper bar and custom-made walnut and leather furnishings gave it the intimate feel of a private club. It thrived under Chase’s ownership.
He eventually acquired the entire building and some adjacent lots for customer parking, which allowed the Copper Cellar to expand and become a destination attraction that has thrived for 43 years and become a 20-restaurant corporation.
But now the Cellar is struggling and Chase is fed up, and it’s probably not just Cumberland Avenue that’s gotten to him – more likely it’s an accumulation of aggravations.
Years ago, he battled the state Department of Transportation’s plan to take out his seafood restaurant on Henley Street, Chesapeake’s, so it could build a downtown tunnel for easy interstate access. After a huge and expensive battle, Chase forced TDOT to modify its plan and he ended up losing only a portion of his property. Chesapeake’s has continued to thrive.
He also survived a face-off with former Mayor Victor Ashe, who wanted to take a big chunk of Calhoun’s on the River’s parking lot for his waterfront project (which included a fancy restaurant a few hundred yards east of Calhoun’s and another to the west). He fought off the state again when it tried to take out Calhoun’s West to make room for a Pellissippi Parkway interchange.
The most confounding thing about these fights was that Chase built these businesses by buying up failed restaurant locations and turning them into sales-tax-revenue-generating, job-producing cash cows.
So it’s not surprising that Chase is wondering why he’s always having to battle for survival, or that he’s handing out T-shirts and sending a message.
Let the games begin.