KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Before they caught fire Wednesday, the McClung Warehouses have been at the center of controversy for years.
Listed as one of Knoxville's Fragile 15 many times, the preservation group Knox Heritage has long said the buildings, located at 501-525 West Jackson Ave, were an eyesore and a danger to the community.
Driving through downtown or along I-40, your eye was drawn to the warehouses and unfortunately the sight wasn't pretty. It was obvious the crumbling structures were dangerous. They had fallen bricks and broken and missing windows clearly visible.
Kim Trent says Knox Heritage has been encouraging the owner, Mark Saroff, for years to improve the buildings' safety and repair code violations.
"Just looking at them from the outside, there would probably have to be violations in the building. I know KCDC (the Knoxville Community Development Corp.) was working through a plan with the owner to address those violations," Trent says.
And Dan Tiller, with KCDC, says, "We had been very patient for a number of years in trying to get those building put back into productive use."
Tiller showed 6 News a proposal to develop the warehouses commissioned by the owner.
KCDC had been willing to issue tax incentives but Saroff never followed through with his development proposals.
"It was turned down by the advisory board because it failed to include a time line and a financial plan which was most important," Tiller says.
In October 2005, Saroff wanted to repair the building. According to records 6 News obtained from the city, he wanted to fix the windows, patch up the roofs and repair loose brick. But the work was never done.
Renee Wyatt, with the city's Better Building Board, showed 6 News a plan to remove and replace two old roofs and another plan to replace glass and broken windows, obvious building code violations.
When 6 News checked with Anita Cash at the building inspections department, records show the plans were never accomplished by the builder. The action line on the report shows no action.
"I think that we need to get serious as a community about making sure empty buildings are secured and safe. I think it would have been prevented if the owner had been responsible," Kim Trent says.
Saroff told 6 News Wednesday he's dedicated his life to the McClung Warehouses. He also says he's disappointed the redevelopment plans never got off the ground and he's shocked by the loss of the buildings.