New life for old building: Makers’ Building rehab proposals due soon

Nick Della VolpeFeature, Inside 640

On July 13, the city of Knoxville solicited proposals for the re-development of the 2-story, 6,000 sq. ft. building located at 1200 McCalla Ave. for use as a Makers’ manufacturing facility as a part of the overall Magnolia Avenue corridor restoration. Readers will recall our earlier Magnolia Miracle Mile article this summer. Today we’re zooming in on one aspect of that project.

Back in the fall of 2016, Knoxville hosted a summit at the Tennessee Mill & Mine building to engage local craftsmen/makers to organize and energize a growing, small-scale business incubation force. Knoxville was officially designated as an ETSY Maker City in 2016. Proposals to develop this city-owned building to further that effort will be officially opened on Oct. 11.

This website photo captures the enthusiasm for the Builders’ Building project.

The 1200 McCalla building, which is bordered by Willow and Bell Streets that also hosts the recently facade-improved Gray-Hodges showroom and plumbing supply house, is currently empty. The shuttered building previously housed several city police and parks department staffs. It is located in a warehouse and light industry zone. Last year, the property appraised for $250,000 to $270,000.

Planned Use. What’s a “Maker” in this context? Makers are small-scale manufacturers of tangible goods like textiles, hardware, wood, metal, 3D printing and food products. They include kitchen and food processing, craft-brewers, distilleries, screen printing, art studios, and other craft and cottage industry-sized businesses. Knoxville wants to encourage such entry level businesses. The building offers convenient access to downtown.

The city’s redevelopment director, Dawn Michelle Foster, who is in charge of the overall Magnolia corridor project, said that this maker community effort follows through on suggestions made by Smart Growth America and Knoxville’s Entrepreneurial Center, which has been “working with Etsy and the local maker community.”

As to the city’s redevelopment mission, Foster noted that downtown is stretching outward to the surrounding spokes, like Magnolia, leading into the city. The1200 Building request for proposals seeks to further that mission, she said. “The RFP is a great way to put a surplus building back to work and help re-infuse healthy business activity into the area.”

Jim Biggs, head of Knoxville’s Entrepreneurial Center, pointed out that cities benefit from encouraging small business and Makers’ facilities which “attract people to downtown and neighborhood centers, occupy vacant industrial properties and storefronts, and help rehabilitate communities. Because they encourage and foster special skills, small-scale manufacturing jobs frequently pay more than retail and service jobs.”

Details about the upcoming Sept. 23 makers’ summit can be found on the website:

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