The Tennessee Historical Commission announced that seven Tennessee sites have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, including the Daylight Building in Downtown Knoxville.
Knoxville real estate developer Benjamin Howard Sprankle had this building constructed during 1926-27. The two-story brick building located in downtown Knoxville was built with spaces for offices and retail stores. The main importance of the building begins in 1933 when the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority used the spaces for offices for its engineering, soil conservation and training divisions. The Daylight Building is a remaining, unaltered historic building associated with this early phase of TVA’s history.
UPDATE: We just spoke with David Dewhirst, the downtown owner and developer of the Daylight Building, to get his reaction to the news and how it affects the project going forward.
Regarding the process to apply for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Mr. Dewhirst said that his group went to Nashville for a presentation to the Tennessee Historical Commission which he though was well received. But there are many hurdles to overcome in getting the National Park Service to sign off. He singled out the work of Ann Bennett in the Historic Preservation department of the MPC Development Services division as being instrumental in developing the application and coordinating the effort and generally being a champion for the project. He also said that Knox Heritage helped with the effort.
Mr. Dewhirst said that the building is not as ornate as some of the other historic downtown structures, but that it has its own charm and there aren't many like it. He noted that he's an engineer, and when he walks in to the building he imagines 1933 and all the TVA engineers in their starched white shirts with their pencils saying "let's design a dam." "It's a slice of the way America was," he said.
Regarding the current real estate market and economic environment, Mr. Dewhirst said that he's not worried in the least about the project, which will involve retail space on the street level with residential space above. "Downtown residential is strong," said Mr. Dewhirst. Moreover, except for Market Square there isn't much small, available, "ready-to-go" space configured for retailers downtown. Downtown growth and development from the 1800s up until the 1960s and 1970s created "big building stock" which is too big and too difficult to reconfigure for retailers looking for 1000 square foot spaces, according to Mr. Dewhirst.
On the importance of the historical property designation, which he has known about for a week or so, Mr. Dewhirst said that it would not have been economically feasible to save the building and move the redevelopment project forward without the associated federal historic preservation tax credits. He said it would have easier to tear it down and make a parking lot (like the "old" Sprankle building property), because "in one week you can have the building in a landfill and start collecting money" from parking revenues.
He also noted that past projects have involved properties already in historic overlays or designated as historically significant, so as a developer he was "behind the eight ball" on this project but moved forward on the assumption that getting the historical designation would not be an issue. It was a gamble that appears to have paid off.
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