Downtown Knoxville's transformation continues and is spreading outward and across the river. The energy is contagious and the progress is remarkable compared to a decade ago. Mayor Madeline Rogero and her staff deserve credit for these laudable accomplishments, as do her predecessors who laid the groundwork for some of the projects.

From the City of Knoxville:

REDEVELOPMENT MILESTONES:
2017 HIGHLIGHTS, LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018

Public and private investment throughout Knoxville hit milestones in 2017, with more good news expected to unfold quickly in 2018.

Topping the list: For the first 11 months of 2017, the City of Knoxville issued building permits for construction projects valued at nearly half a billion dollars -- a 12.8 percent increase in the value of properties, compared with the same 11-month period in 2016.

Large increases in the value and widespread range of properties, citywide, for which building permits are issued is considered to be an objective measurement of a strong local economy.

"We're partnering with property owners and residents to bring opportunity and jobs to all parts of the city," Mayor Madeline Rogero said. "As we've always said -- the priority is to move from disinvestment to reinvestment, while enhancing everyone's quality of life.

"We're hitting some major redevelopment milestones, and the record high value of projects being issued building permits this year is significant. That's an accurate bellwether of a growing, robust local economy."

Here's a year-end thumbnail look at some key redevelopment hotspots in Knoxville, plus a closer look at the record high project value for building permits and what it means:

Downtown

The year is ending with a dramatic flourish. Two major anchor buildings -- the Farragut Hotel and the former KUB building -- have been extensively renovated and will soon reopen.

A new Hyatt Place, in the historic Farragut Hotel building, will open in late December. The hotel will feature 165 rooms, a rooftop bar and event space, and a street-level Starbucks. It's a $25 million investment that brings back into reuse a vacant nine-story grand hotel building with a storied past.

Meanwhile, a block to the south, the Tombras Group is finishing its $10 million restoration of the former KUB building. A January move-in is likely.

The once green building at Gay Street and Church Avenue had stood vacant for more than 16 years. The extensively rejuvenated 50,000-square-foot building will feature a new color scheme and modern, open design -- with rooftop and outdoor patios.

A number of retailers are moving into downtown, and others are swapping locations or upsizing to larger spaces. They include two chocolatiers, as well as Bliss and Tori Mason Shoes on Gay Street.

You're also probably noticing all the cranes and concrete pours throughout downtown.

A 144-room Courtyard by Marriott and 88-room Residence Inn are going up at the intersection of Church Avenue and State Street, where the News Sentinel and Journal were published for decades. The tract has been vacant for almost two decades. The 166,000-square-foot hotels, a more than $40 million investment, will open in 2018.

Another hotel, an Embassy Suites, is planned in the 500 block of Gay Street. The $37 million project involves transitioning a 13-story office and former bank building, the Conley Building, into a 160-room hotel with a restaurant and a rooftop bar. The Embassy Suites is expected to open in spring 2019.

A few other skyline-changing developments:

• Regas Square, a $40 million mixed-use project with more than 100 condominiums, is on track to open next year on Depot Avenue.

• The Crozier, a mixed-use development with luxury condos, offices and retail space at Central Street and Willow Avenue, is also going vertical. This more than $7 million project is scheduled to open in 2018.

Magnolia Avenue

By this time next year, a six-block section of Magnolia Avenue will be on its way toward a streetscape transformation.

The right-of-way process will continue through late February 2018, with construction anticipated to start by summer 2018.

The project -- upgrading the public infrastructure on a stretch of Magnolia Avenue between Jessamine Street and North Bertrand Street -- is slated to be complete by fall 2019.

Magnolia Avenue is already a "complete street," accommodating motorists, bicyclists, transit riders and pedestrians. But the City's goal is to enhance the corridor. In addition to providing safer amenities for all users, the multi-million-dollar infrastructure upgrades will encourage neighborhood-serving commercial development along the corridor.

Proposed improvements include a gateway monument entry sign; raised landscaped center median and designated left-turn locations; improved bike lanes; and bus pull-offs. Underground utility lines will also be upgraded, and new street trees and landscaping will be planted.

Streetscape amenities include attractive new street and pedestrian scaled lighting, wider sidewalks, benches and bike racks. Three major signalized intersections will be upgraded and will include colored stamped asphalt crosswalks to enhance both aesthetics and pedestrian safety.

South Waterfront

New apartments and a newly renovated office building are returning vibrancy to a section of the riverfront that's been dormant and unoccupied since 2008. By this time next year, more than 1,200 people will be living and working on a stretch of the South Waterfront near the Henley and Gay Street bridges.

One big milestone in 2017 was the renovation of a nine-story 178,000-square-foot City-owned $12 million office building. Regal Entertainment Group has contracted with the City to move its 400 employees into the office space.

Motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the Henley Bridge will notice two new apartment complexes taking shape on either side of the bridge -- the $60 million Riverwalk at the Bridges and the $40 million 303 Flats student apartments.

The Riverwalk at the Bridges apartments are anticipated to open by next summer, and the 303 Flats will open in fall 2018.

Streetscape improvements, riverwalk construction and the addition of other amenities will continue throughout the coming year. For example, 1,550 feet of new riverwalk is being built, along with a 37,500-square-foot public plaza at the Henley Bridge.

Also coming in 2018: The right-of-way process gets underway on Sevier Avenue, with a multi-million-dollar streetscape improvement project to follow. Upgrades will include bike lanes, improved sidewalks, street lighting, on-street parking and a new roundabout at the Sevier Avenue, Island Home Avenue and Foggy Bottom Street intersections.

Cumberland Avenue

The City's two-year top-to-bottom reconstruction of Cumberland Avenue reached substantial completion in August -- on time and within budget. Trees are being planted this month.

Cumberland between 17th and 22nd streets has been recreated into a safer, more pedestrian-friendly corridor with new utility infrastructure, wider sidewalks, improved traffic flow, a raised median and left-turn lanes at intersections.

The public investment of $25 million has helped leverage more than $190 million in private investment to date.

Two new apartment buildings, The Standard and Evolve, have opened since 2014, and a third -- the TENN Student Living redevelopment project being constructed at 1830 Cumberland -- is scheduled to open next year.

Combined, the three properties will be home to about 1,450 students.

All three of the new residential developments were made possible by the City's use of Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOTs -- tools used to help close financing gaps that otherwise would have rendered the projects financially impossible. PILOTs freeze property taxes at current levels for a set period of time.

Combined, the three properties are now appraised in value at about $5.9 million during the PILOT period. But once the projects are completed and the PILOTs expire, they'll be worth an estimated $72.8 million. The three redevelopments will produce $761,000 a year in new City and Knox County taxes.

Building permits, projects' value

In addition to the centrally-located projects, in and near downtown, there's been major investment all across the city.

From January 2016 to November 2016, the value of projects issued building permits for projects citywide was almost $422 million.

For the same 11-month period this year, the value of new projects grew by about $54 million -- to $476,326,720. That's a 12.8 percent jump.

Peter Ahrens, the City's Director of Plans Review and Inspections, said the growth reflects a strong private-sector desire to invest as well as support at city hall.

"We're always ready to help owners and developers make improvements to and redevelop their properties," Ahrens said.

"We're proud of the spirit of cooperation between the City and developers and contractors. That's why we anticipate another good year in 2018 in terms of vigorous economic activity."

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