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Downtown shell shaping up as Fire Street Lofts

(this article appeared in the September 30, 2004 edition of KnoxNews.com)

Potential buyers showing interest in old Jackson Ave. nightclub

By ROGER HARRIS, harrisr@knews.com October 1, 2004

Standing in sand ankle deep in places on the top floor of a vacant Jackson Avenue building, downtown developer David Dewhirst waxes eloquent about his latest residential conversion project.

He speaks in rapid bursts about his vision for transforming what is now a six-story shell with decades of grime on the floors and walls into a sparkling, 30-unit residential and commercial urban space he calls Fire Street Lofts.

"People who buy these condos will have unbelievable views of the mountains. I mean, look at those windows. Look how big they are. That's a great view from up here," Dewhirst said as he scuffed his shoe in sand left behind by the sandblasting crew cleaning the brick and wood interior.

Whirling around, Dewhirst nods toward the wood-panel ceiling and suggests that some buyers may want to put in spiral staircases for access to the roof.

"Because they will have possession of the roof space above their condo, some people will want to put in a deck. It'll be a great place for a killer roof deck where you could sit at night and look out over the city. Or they can put in skylights to bring more natural light in. It's up to them. But it will be fantastic no matter what they do," Dewhirst added.

It will be about 10 months before the first condos are ready for occupancy, but prospective buyers already are asking for tours. Dewhirst expects to have a model condo finished in a few weeks. Then he will begin marketing the units in earnest. He puts the project's cost at $6.5 million.

"Demand is strong, but the people interested in living here aren't always the young, urban lifestyle people might expect. I wouldn't be surprised if most of these (condos) are sold to empty-nesters or retirees," Dewhirst said.

Although the building fronts on Jackson, Dewhirst named the project after the alley on the west side of the building which separates the new lofts project from the recently renovated Emporium building on Gay Street. Old city maps show the alley, which is perpendicular to Jackson and parallel to Gay, was at one time named Fire Street.

Dewhirst's company, Dewhirst Properties Inc, also developed the Emporium, which has apartments and commercial space.

Dewhirst's plan for the Fire Street project includes connecting the Jackson Street building to the Emporium via a pair of skyways. He also intends to repave the alley with a cobblestone surface and install open-flame lamps, which would be attached to the exteriors of the buildings lining the alley.

"It will be a great pedestrian space, perfect for artist studios and art galleries," Dewhirst said.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam said the Fire Street project represents another building block in the revitalization of downtown.

"One of the reasons living downtown has become so popular is because of the interesting spaces created by redeveloping old buildings," Haslam said. "This project capitalizes on that trend and expands upon the successful residential development in the 100 block of Gay Street."

Fire Street Lofts also will help bridge the gap between Gay Street and the Old City, the mayor said.

The one- to three-bedroom condos all will be on the top four floors and sell for about $120,000 to around $300,000. Final prices have not been determined.

Each unit will have a private deck, and buyers will have access to a pair of parking spaces in a two-story covered parking deck that will be built adjacent to the lofts.

The first two floors of the building will be reserved for commercial use. The first floor of the building actually sits below ground. Dewhirst envisions opening a small bar in the front corner of this below street-level space.

"It would be different than any other place downtown. A quiet atmosphere where you can relax, get away and talk," Dewhirst said.

Such a bar would be a sharp contrast to the Underground nightclub, a dance club that once occupied a portion of the Jackson Avenue building. Some of the unusual wall paintings the club was known for can still be seen.

The paintings will disappear as the brick walls and wood ceilings are sandblasted clean and sprayed with a protective clear coating.

"It will really bring out the rich color of the brick and wood," Dewhirst said.

In addition to the bar, Dewhirst envisions the commercial space attracting a coffee shop, a jazz club, bookstore and other businesses catering to urban dwellers.

He doesn't have any commercial tenants lined up, but they will be key to the long-term financial success of the project. Sale of the condos should cover the debt incurred to develop the project and revenue from commercial leased would provide an ongoing income, Dewhirst said.

Business writer Roger Harris can be reached at 865-342-6342.

Fire Street Lofts | 214 Jackson Ave. | Knoxville, TN 37902

© Copyright © 2009-2017 Dewhirst Properties, LLC