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Preserving History is Part of City's Role in Redevelopment, Reinvestment 
Take a look at these "then" and "now" photos of the St. Mary's Hospital campus.

The first photo shows the iconic 1929 Building, the original St. Mary's, shortly after it opened 91 years ago.

1929 Building, as it looked when it initially opened

Excuse the temporary rubble and the dirt from the reconstruction site in the photo below. But it shows how the 1929 Building looks today, following the hospital's closure and amid the City's $46.5 million conversion of the vacated campus into a Public Safety Complex. 

Non-descript add-on buildings that had hidden the stately marble-accented original structure for decades have been demolished. The grounds will be freshly landscaped before the complex opens in early 2022.

The 1929 Building, as it looks now. The iconic building had been screened for decades by non-descript add-on buildings. When the Public Safety Complex opens in 2022, this area will be freshly landscaped.

The important thing is the City's fundamental decision to take the extra steps to save the 1929 Building. It is being carefully preserved, as are the hospital artifacts that it once showcased.

"Redevelopment of a large vacant property with a unique history can be done the right way, and that was always the City's goal in bringing the hospital campus back into reuse," City Community Empowerment Director Charles Lomax says. "We wanted to reinvest in the neighborhoods, avoid the site remaining empty for a long time and sliding into blight, and also honor all the good things done by St. Mary's staff over the years."

Since March, contractor crews have been slowly and carefully demolishing obsolete buildings on the former St. Mary’s Hospital site. That has sometimes involved high-reach excavators and high-tech robotic arms, which knock down a few bricks at a time.

The slow-motion takedowns have been intentional. The contractor team wanted to safeguard the unique 1929 Building, as well as the nearby buildings that are being repurposed to house Police, Fire administrative, City Court, E-911 and Pension System operations.

Razing the obsolete and non-descript buildings that had enclosed the 1929 Building was akin to peeling back layers of an onion. Now, the previously covered-up 1929 Building looks a lot more like it did the day it opened. It’s unobscured and free-standing for the first time in half a century.

Here is a recent aerial flyover of the St. Mary's site:

The Central, Annunciation, West and Marian Wings have been demolished, and obsolete buildings north of the 1929 Building will be razed next.

The reconstruction work this past year also involved the tender and reverential caretaking of historic artifacts inside the former Catholic hospital. Crosses, altars, marble plaques, cornerstones and historic photos have been put aside for safekeeping, and some of the artifacts will be replaced on site, as representational reminders of the hospital's significance to Knoxville's history.

A contractor crew carefully removes for safekeeping a carved memorial honoring the senior founders of Sisters of Mercy.

A contractor crew last spring carefully removed for safekeeping a carved memorial honoring the senior founders of Sisters of Mercy.

For more details about the painstakingly careful preservation of many of the historical artifacts that graced the halls and grounds of the former St. Mary's Hospital, click HERE.

This original hospital building, itself an irreplaceable historic gem, will serve as the centerpiece for a privately redeveloped north campus in the coming years. That is possible because about 14 percent of the Public Safety Complex reconstruction budget was committed to clearing the north-side unneeded buildings, so as to create a blank canvas for future private reuse.

The Public Safety Complex is a prominent example of how the City preserves history in its redevelopment projects and community reinvestments. But there are many others. 

Here are a few other recent examples of the City partnering with property owners and others to make historic preservation happen:


These grants are exactly what the name implies - direct City funding to help preserve historic properties, selected by a committee that scores applicants based on cost feasibility, project readiness and community benefit.

Last spring, City Council voted to approve $642,752 in Historic Preservation Grant awards to support property improvements for four projects: The historic Tennessee and Bijou theaters, as well as two multi-family residential buildings – Lintz Lofts and Shanklin Flats.

Tennessee Theatre
Tennessee Theatre

Click HERE for more details about the 2020 awards, or HERE for more information about preservation projects assisted in previous years.


There are places around Knoxville that hint of the fascinating legacy of one of Knoxville's most notable sons: Caldonia Fackler Johnson, who was born a slave in 1844 and by sheer willpower raised himself up to become the City's first African-American millionaire.

There's a plaque at Marble Alley Lofts that marks the approximate location of his final home. A City recreation center on Hall of Fame Drive bears his name; Johnson had financially supported the park at the site that served African-American families.

The oval-shaped roadway in Burlington, Speedway Circle, was once a Cal Johnson racetrack.

But no place evokes the spirit and drive that defined Johnson so much as the three-story 14,848-square-foot Cal Johnson Building at 301 State Street, the warehouse he constructed in 1898 in the Vernacular Commercial style.

Cal Johnson Building, 301 State Street

It's the last of Johnson's buildings that remains standing - and the Jed Dance family that owns it recently completed a top-to-bottom revitalization of the 122-year-old landmark, which had been sitting empty for decades.

By far, the biggest commitments to giving the Cal Johnson Building a new life were made by the Dance family, but others supported the redevelopment. 

The City of Knoxville and Downtown Knoxville Alliance took steps to financially assist with the rejuvenation of the building. The City provided $807,929 through a 15-year financing assistance plan called a PILOT, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes, to help close the gap in making the project viable. The City's Housing and Neighborhood Development Department also provided $100,000 through the Historic Preservation Fund. 

The Downtown Knoxville Alliance, formerly the Central Business Improvement District, provided a $150,000 facade grant.

Conversion Properties - the force behind Regas Square and the Southeastern Glass Building, among other projects involving historic buildings - worked with the Dance family on the Cal Johnson Building overhaul.

Inside the Cal Johnson Building - apartments with exposed brick, tall windows and high ceilings

The Dance family wanted to make sure Johnson's spirit was recognized.

"Working with the City and Conversion Properties to restore Cal Johnson's legacy only made sense," Dance, owner of Bacon & Co., a multi-generational company that offers custom embroidery, screen printing, promotional products, personalized gifts and other specialty items, said last summer in a City Blog post.

Click HERE to see a photo gallery in the original blog post about the rejuvenated building.


At its lowest point, buttress supports had to be used to shore up the then-empty South High building to keep it standing upright.

At its low point, supports had to shore up the South High building to keep it intact.

But many years later, Dover Signature Properties this summer was celebrating the completion of a $12 million rejuvenation of the former school and community icon, now the beautiful new South High Senior Living.

Here is how the exterior looks today:

Here is how the exterior looks now.

Developer Rick Dover specializes in bringing back beloved buildings thought by many to be beyond the point of saving. His repurposed historic buildings include Old Knoxville High, Oakwood School, the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge and the former Farragut Hotel on Gay Street. He is currently overhauling the former state Supreme Court site downtown.

South High closed in 1991 and remained empty and unused until summer 2008, when a previous owner purchased it at auction. Multiple ideas and proposals for the property fell through as the building suffered damage from vandalism and roof leaks.

Over the next several years, City Council members applied an H-1 overlay protection on the property, and the Better Building Board certified South High as a blighted property. In April 2015, the City used Chronic Problem Property acquisition funds to purchase the property, and the Housing and Neighborhood Development Department sought proposals from developers to finally restore the damaged historic building.

Dover took on the challenge, his proposal for the property was selected, and he painstakingly remade the old school into senior living apartments for dozens of residents.


Did you know that a part of the City's $8.7 million rebuild of the Jackson Avenue Ramps involved a committee of engineers and landscape architects picking out concrete colors and brick veneers that best matched the look and feel of the Old City?

The new ramps are opening at the end of this month. For more on how the colors and shapes of the stamped concrete, colored concrete, bricks and mortar were selected for the sidewalks, bridge railings, bridge decks and lower sections of the ramps, click HERE.

Original 100-year-old pavers are being put back in place in the new Jackson Avenue ramps.

And by the way - those red brick pavers that you'll see at the tops of the ramps? Those are originals from 100 years ago.


Despite the pandemic, reconstruction and reinvestment in downtown Knoxville is going strong.

As of the end of last summer, more than $180 million in new investment was being privately invested in condominiums, apartments, restaurants, offices and hotel renovations. Anticipate another 1,000 new residents to be living in or near downtown by summer 2021.

Because it's downtown, the original and oldest part of Knoxville, that means a lot of rejuvenation of historic buildings - or blending in new construction to match the vibe of the historic environment.

For example, Dover Signature Properties and Bristol Development Group have teamed on a $76 million project, believed to be one of the largest private construction project in downtown history. Their concept includes a 237-unit apartment community (to be named Church & Henley) with a pool, a fitness studio and outdoor kitchens, garage parking, 62 units of short-term rental apartments with a rooftop deck, and some retail, such as a coffee shop on Henley Street.

To make the redevelopment financially viable, the City negotiated a 25-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement. 

The 65-year-old former Tennessee Supreme Court building, with its iconic East Tennessee marble and mid-century modern style points, is being preserved.

State Supreme Court building

Meanwhile, in the Old City, Hatcher-Hill Properties is investing more than $3.5 million to overhaul the buildings that formerly housed the NV and Bowery nightclubs. The buildings are large, and so is their potential. Co-owner Tim Hill says his company last summer began converting the 19,000 square feet into two restaurants and two office suites. In addition, the property features a courtyard / entertainment patio.

The City contributed $125,000 in Commercial Facade Improvement Program funding to support the top-to-bottom renovation project.

Yet another example: Check out the new $3 million Hyatt Place rooftop bar, 530 S. Gay St.

Before he was wrangling with the vacant state Supreme Court site or the dilapidated South High in South Knoxville, Rick Dover had given a new life to the stately but long-dormant Farragut Hotel, a downtown anchor that covers an entire city block. The hotel makeover was a $25 million project. 

The pre-redevelopment property was appraised at $3.6 million. The building's valuation is now estimated to be $18.4 million. City and County tax revenues will grow five-fold once the 25-year PILOT expires.

Hyatt Place, formerly the Farragut Hotel, 530 S. Gay St.

This year, Dover completed the 6,000-square-foot interior/exterior open-year-round rooftop bar and deck atop the Hyatt Place.

Check out this photo gallery, courtesy of the Inside of Knoxville blog.
Posted by evreeland On 17 December, 2020 at 9:09 PM