Dispute over buildings pits preservationists against a church

Dispute over two 1920s buildings in downtown Knoxville pits preservationists against church

Posted:
The 1920s buildings sit next to St. John's in downtown Knoxville. The 1920s buildings sit next to St. John's in downtown Knoxville.
The church wants to rip down the buildings to put up a walkway and landscaping. (Source: St. John's) The church wants to rip down the buildings to put up a walkway and landscaping. (Source: St. John's)
The Metropolitan Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the church's request. The Metropolitan Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the church's request.
"A lot of downtown's rebirth and attracting investment to downtown has been because of the historic buildings in places. They have a great pedestrian scale. People like old buildings and like to be around them," said Kim Trent. "A lot of downtown's rebirth and attracting investment to downtown has been because of the historic buildings in places. They have a great pedestrian scale. People like old buildings and like to be around them," said Kim Trent.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A dispute over two buildings pits preservationists against a church. The issue played out Thursday at a Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting.

The buildings in question are 710 and 712 Walnut Street, which sit next to St. John's Cathedral in downtown Knoxville.

The two buildings were built in the 1920s. One building is eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

St. John's owns both buildings. The church representative says they must be demolished for the church to grow.

Preservation group Knox Heritage says tearing down the old buildings would not be good for downtown.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the church's request to tear down the buildings and put in a walkway and landscaping.

Many commissioners expressed belief that St. John's Cathedral was within their right to what they would like with their property.

Attorney Arthur Seymour, who represents St. John's Cathedral and is a church member, said after months of consideration, church leaders decided that to be able to grow, the buildings had to go.

"Demolish the two buildings, then we'll go to work on the internal improvements in the parking lot to make accessibility to the church easier and handicap accessible," said Seymour.

The cost of maintaining the vacant buildings has also become too expensive for the church.

Knox Heritage Director Kim Trent has presented alternative plans in an effort to meet the church's needs while keeping the buildings.

But church leaders say the plan to lease the buildings won't help their long-term growth plan. Trent says it's vital for the community to keep the old buildings.

"A lot of downtown's rebirth and attracting investment to downtown has been because of the historic buildings in places. They have a great pedestrian scale. People like old buildings and like to be around them," said Trent.

In the past, stores were on the first level of the buildings with residential units on top.

Trent said even though the church has been given approval to tear the buildings down, she'll keep working on a compromise to try and keep them.

"Of course we are disappointed, but we have not given up hope that before the buildings come down, before the wrecking balls arrive, we'll be able to come to some sort of solution," said Trent.

Seymour believes demolition on the two buildings will start in about a month and a half.

The Knox Heritage Director Kim Trent says downtown development pressures continue to rise.

She believes if downtown design guidelines are not revised, more and more old buildings will be demolished.

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