Welcome, Marriott; major eyesore is no more

Sandra ClarkDowntown, Let's Talk

Send up a cheer as Rockbridge opens the Marriott Knoxville Downtown today. The restoration of the old Holiday Inn at World’s Fair Park brings closure to a 40-year tussle over a prime piece of real estate downtown.

Going from memory here, but Jake Butcher made a deal with his sometimes rival, sometimes ally developer Franklin Haney of Chattanooga, that Haney would build, own and operate the 300-room hotel adjacent to the main gate of a 1982 World’s Fair that was supposed to bring 12 million visitors to Knoxville. (We pushed close to 12 million through that gate, but it was more like 120,000 folks from around here attending 100 times each on a season pass to drink beer and do the chicken dance. You know who you are.)

But time moves on and Republican Mayor Victor Ashe got 16 years to tidy up the World’s Fair site and advance his vision for Knoxville. In year 15, he pushed through a complex funding scheme to obligate the city for $160 million or so to build the convention center. Then somebody said, “But what about that falling-down hotel next door?”

“Not to worry,” said Ashe. “We will condemn it.”

“Not so quick,” said Franklin Haney. Like a marriage gone bad, Haney promised to do better; to fix up that hotel and make it a fine complement to the convention center. But he never did. And then in a flash, Ashe was gone.

Finally, in 2009, Haney sold the property, a transaction aided by $15 million in tax-exempt development bonds approved by the city, according to records. Knoxville paid Haney to come here and paid him again to leave.

And now, in 2022, Rockbridge owns the Holiday Inn, rebranded as the Marriott, and the neighboring Tennessean Hotel. Check the websites. Drop by this morning for a ribbon-cutting and reception. These hotels are truly spectacular. And hey, it’s only been 40 years.

Rockbridge worked with Robin Easter Design to create the 12,000 square-foot Maker Exchange space that connects the two hotels and has engaged Knoxville’s Dogwood Arts  to bring the concept to life and connect with the maker community.

Aimbridge Hospitality will operate the new Marriott and the Tennessean Hotel.

Welcome, y’all. We’ve all been waiting.

This ‘n’ that

Lt. Col. Michael Stefanovic, U.S. Air Force, will speak from 5-6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8, in the Toyota Auditorium, Baker Center, UT. Stefanovic says: “Over the last few years, the Air Force has strived to develop an organizational approach to innovation that drives positive disruptive innovation while encouraging an innovation culture that embraces change.”

Katherine Bike, mom, public schools advocate and youth mentor, is running for Knox County Board of Education from District 4. Virginia Babb now holds the seat but declined to run again when the legislature and local political parties chose to make the races partisan. Bike has qualified as a Democrat. Republicans Scott Whaley and Will Edwards also have picked up petitions.

Fred Cannon, Fountain City friend, says old photographers never retire, they just stop developing!

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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