News Column

EDITORIAL: Downtown hotel, apartment plans attest to potential

February 28, 2014

The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.

Feb. 28--There are several proposals for apartments and hotels that will change the downtown landscape and could be a boon for Knoxville -- if they come to fruition.

The latest was announced Monday and involves the Farragut Building at the corner of Clinch Avenue and Gay Street. Representatives of the Halo Hospitality Group, based in Sacramento, Calif., have proposed returning the historic building to its original use as a hotel.

An audience of more than 50 greeted the proposal with a warm reception, no doubt hoping to see the property returned to its glory days as a hotel on the city's main thoroughfare. The hotel once had as its guests the New York Yankees (including Babe Ruth) during a 1930s exhibition game, television host Merv Griffin and David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel.

On Monday, Brian Larson of Halo and Tom Cologna of Pacific Capital talked about their plan to resurrect the Farragut Building as a 190-room hotel. The building, designed in 1919, was named for Admiral David Farragut, whose U.S. naval service included the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

Larson acknowledged the current proposal will be challenging, likely requiring federal historic tax credits as well as payment-in-lieu-of-tax incentives from the city of Knoxville.

An equal, if not bigger, challenge will be the competition from other projects in the general downtown area. Two blocks away at the corner of State Street and Church Avenue an Atlanta group has plans for a 120-room Residence Inn by Marriott. The State Supreme Court building on Henley Street near Cumberland Avenue is targeted for renovation including a 130- to 135-room hotel. Proposals for the former Baptist Hospital, across Fort Loudoun Lake from downtown, include a hotel as well as apartments and retail stores. Nick Cazana, a Knoxville developer, plans a 120-room hotel in the former state office building on Henley across from the Knoxville Convention Center.

The site of the former Baptist Hospital has been approved for a 30-year, $22 million tax-increment-financing incentive. For others seeking local financial support, including Larson, the city will have to consider what it believes the demand will be for more hotel rooms in the downtown area. Visit Knoxville, whose mission is to book events to fill up local hotels, should be involved in analyzing the market.

Larson appears undeterred at the prospect of competition. He said the area has hotels on the interstates and major highways, but hotels in the downtown area could add vitality to the urban setting. He has a point.

Whatever the city ultimately decides, it is presented for the time being with a happy problem: Developers and business folks want to build here; they see a potential in the city's downtown community that all should welcome. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when that wasn't so.

City government and local business leaders should ask tough questions, put on an optimistic face and ensure that the projects for which they are being asked to invest will benefit Knoxville.


(c)2014 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)

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Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN)

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