June 10--The food may be gone, but the Regas name will be staying at the corner of Gay Street and Magnolia Avenue.
Scope readers may recall that the Regas Restaurant building was sold earlier this year for $2 million, and that the Knoxville Leadership Foundation is moving its headquarters to the property.
On Tuesday morning, workers from Allen Sign Co. partially dismantled the neon "Regas Restaurant" sign that has long beckoned to hungry diners, but it's not a permanent farewell.
Instead, the building's new owners are planning to modify the display so that it reads "Regas Square," the official name -- as designated by the city -- of the block bounded by Gay Street, Magnolia Avenue, Williams Street and Depot Avenue.
The decision is good news for preservationists, who in recent years have advocated saving historic advertising signs in East Tennessee.
In 2010, preservation group Knox Heritage and JFG Coffee announced a grant program called "Save Our Signs," which has provided funding to recipients including the Pizza Palace and the Candoro Marble Building.
Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage, said the program has slowed down since then and no applications were submitted for the last round of grants. "We're hopeful for more applications to come in for the next round," Trent said.
When it comes to the Regas building, the new sign may not be the only change in the works.
One of the developers involved in the project said Tuesday that there are plans to develop a new multistory building on the block that could include retail, office and residential space.
Those plans are still in the preliminary stages, but there's no doubt that the area north of downtown is a hot spot for development activity. As most of downtown Knoxville's historic buildings have been re-purposed as lofts and offices, some developers have begun turning their sights to the north and east.
Among other things, the former White Lily flour mill at the corner of Depot and Central Street is being renovated by Dewhirst Properties into an apartment building, and a former car dealership at 525 N. Gay St. was recently renovated by Hatcher Hill Properties as a studio and exhibit space for the UT College of Architecture + Design.
Regas Restaurant for decades was an icon on Knoxville's dining scene. Founded in 1919 by brothers Frank and George Regas, the eatery was a lunch spot for Knoxville's movers and shakers and a destination for generations of Knoxvillians looking to mark a special occasion before it closed on the last day of 2010.
The wedding parties and power lunches may be gone, but it's nice to know that a rooftop reminder will remain.
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