It’s one of the best times of year in downtown Knoxville − the end of it. That may sound gloomy, but we mean just the opposite, as the year’s end truly is a time to look forward with excitement to what awaits Knoxville in 2023.
Spoiler alert: A whole lot is planned for the city, from hotels to hog plates to hoedowns on the banks of the Holston River.
These are some of the most anticipated businesses and developments planned for downtown Knoxville and the surrounding areas in 2023, some of which could help shape the city for years to come.
HD Patel and his Ephant Group still have a lot to prove, as the hotel developer admittedly has focused the first iteration of his career on “cookie cutter” properties.
But he’s ready to take his skillset to the next level, and Forbes has taken notice by highlighting the Hope Brothers Building on Gay Street, which is set to become Hotel Cleo.
Patel told Knox News in 2021 he would maintain as much of the building’s historic charm as possible. At the time, the plan was for four 600-square-foot hotel rooms on each of the four floors above street level. A representative for Patel has not accommodated Knox News’ request for a tour of the property.
The developer also is incorporating more recent history, by welcoming Aaron Thompson and Jessica “Rabbit” King to open a restaurant and bar concept. The two were behind Sapphire, previously housed in the building, and have since opened nationally acclaimed Brother Wolf next to their new Osteria Stella restaurant in the Old City.
Patel quickly has become one of downtown’s most notable investors, spending $4.2 million to buy the Hope Brothers Building, $4.75 million to buy the Vine Furniture property and $4 million to buy a notable Old City parking lot − all in 2021 and 2022.
Ephant also worked with Shree Ganesh Hospitality this year to acquire two properties in the 300 block of Gay Street for $7.3 million.
Scott West has made a name for himself as a bar operator, mostly through his renovations of Market Square buildings. But the West family of bars is expanding to Gay Street for the first time with 7 Minutes Early.
While there’s been some internal debate about who actually came up with the name, it’s a reference to being located at a 413 address − seven numbers shy of 420, the numeric representation for marijuana use.
Think of this business as Preservation Pub 2.0, West told Knox News. There will be live music, of course, with plans to open up the rooftop with a rainbow bridge connecting to Preservation Pub across Strong Alley.
Call West what you want, but there’s no denying his creative mind is powered by ambition. Don’t believe it? Have you heard about his plans for LunaVerse and the Moonsphere?
Because these other projects could take some time to complete, we won’t include them on our list. But read all about them at knoxnews.com.
Rick Dover brought something Knoxville has never seen before when he opened The Tribute along Henley Street at 719 Locust St. The residential development at the former state Supreme Court building is part apartment, part hotel, part Airbnb.
But Dover is not finished transforming the former court site, and plans to open his $63 million apartment development, Church + Henley, in 2023. This cost brings his total investment to roughly $78 million on the property.
In January, Knox News podcast “The Scruffy Stuff” examined the potential of “West Downtown Knoxville,” a nickname the hosts coined. With World’s Fair Park nearby and more investment happening on this side of town, including the Marriott renovation and the introduction of “cultural activation space” the Maker Exchange, this neighborhood could be the next hot spot once Church + Henley opens.
Now, if only the hosts’ vision for burying Henley Street could come to fruition …
A commercial space within the Century Building at 312 S. Gay St. has sat empty long enough, and a barbecue restaurant is coming to the rescue.
Chef Benjamin Grice hasn’t lived in Knoxville long, but he already is making a splash in the downtown culinary scene. Inspired by his Illinois restaurant The Humble Hog, opened in 2014, Grice is opening a similar concept downtown.
It could also be called The Humble Hog or, perhaps, just Humble. The menu will differ a bit, with more than just barbecue on the menu. Grice is working on some fish and vegetable dishes to mix things up.
But one look at the Illinois menu, and it’s clear this place could be a meat lover’s dream. Case in point: The Pig Pile, made of fries, pulled pork, cheese sauce, barbecue sauce and jalapenos in a bowl.
For a city that takes so much pride in its college sports, it’s always surprising to see just three downtown sports bars: Tommy Trent’s, Old City Sports Bar and Skybox Sports Bar and Grill.
However, it appears that number could be growing with The Local Smokey, bound for the northern edge of downtown. The new bar will be one of the first tenants to open in the renovated 300 W. Magnolia Ave. building, alongside a new location for The Double S Wine Bar.
The bar plans to have billiards, darts and corn hole, with a full bar and food menu made up of pizza, burgers, wings, salads and hotdogs. The bar plans to host karaoke, live music and trivia.
The Yee-Haw Brewing Company project, taking over the former Elkmont Exchange Brewery at 745 N. Broadway, has faced delays. But judging by the brewery’s Instagram posts, this spot could be well worth the wait.
General manager Charles Ellis previously told Knox News the brewery would provide “the nicest outdoor space for gathering in East Tennessee.” With a large TV screen, turf galore and what appears to be a stage, he might just be right.
The brewery will have a full food menu, which is desperately needed in this neighborhood.
Between the grub and the outdoor pub, both notable features of nearby Schulz Bräu Brewing Company, this area is becoming even more of a destination for beer lovers − not to mention Crafty Bastard, Next Level and the other tasty breweries nearby.
The MAC Auto Loans sign at 200 W. Fifth Ave. is a Knoxville icon, and developers are brainstorming ways that piece of history could be incorporated on the property for years to come. But as for the building, demolition is the plan, making room for this $40 million residential development.
The new build would be U-shaped and five stories tall, running the length of West Fifth Avenue between Williams and King streets. But the most notable feature of the development is the units designed to provide entrepreneurs a place to live, work and sell their products on street level.
Downtown Knoxville’s growth is trending north past the Old City. And while Marble City Market hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, the area is seeing investment at multiple nearby properties, especially as downtown’s stadium project moves along.
While developers plan to open MAC at Fifth in 2024, construction and the anticipated influx of residents could be enough to help transform this part of town.
Although Knoxville is a beer town, the city has welcomed the aforementioned Double S Wine Bar with open arms, and the people behind Zero/Zero believe there’s still room for the wine scene to grow.
Zero/Zero is now shooting for a January opening in a section of the former Time Warp Tea Room. The owners’ focus will be natural wine, considered one of the oldest wine-making processes. This type of wine has little to no intervention from grape growing to bottling.
As downtown Knoxville continues to growth north, Happy Holler could become a more happening place. Just like Yee-Haw, Zero/Zero will be an added amenity for those who live north of downtown − but perhaps even more than the brewery, as the neighborhoods already have a handful of beer joints to choose from.
No, Fly By Night is not a Rush reference; owners Jocelyn Morin and Ryan Shanley have been asked enough. And it doesn’t appear they are rushing, either, as the ’70s-style cocktail bar announced in April is still carefully under construction.
But when it opens on Sevier Avenue, nearby neighbors should be pleased, as beer historically has been the focus on this side of town. Planned for the far-left suite of the building housing Redbud Kitchen and Hi-Wire Brewing, Fly By Night will have “wood paneling, dark oranges, browns, shag carpet, lots of vinyl,” Morin told Knox News.
The owners plan to turn unbalanced disco-era drinks into something delicious, and they have the experience as owners of Tern Club to back up that claim.
Knoxville’s first food hall, Marble City Market, has been a major focus of downtown Knoxville news coverage in 2022. While the coverage started out as positive, with the belief the project on the northern edge of downtown could be transformative, the mood switched as vendors began dropping out.
But the food hall planned at the former Kern’s Bakery site south of downtown is something else entirely. That doesn’t mean it will be more successful than Marble City Market, but the design is promising, with rooftop bars, an outdoor lawn and a distillery all in the plans.
The food hall portion of the project is just the “anchor,” said Alex Dominguez, one of the partners in the project. Apartments already have opened on the site, and space is being dedicated to a clothing store, flower shop and a fitness center.
Dominguez estimates 400 events could take place on the site each year, from concerts to farmers markets.
Suttree Landing Park is one of the most beautiful green spaces in the city and one of the most underutilized. Aside from the annual Second Bell Music Festival, not much happens at the riverside space, except for personal picnics and jogging.
But South Banks at Suttree Landing, a $60 million apartment complex by the Dominion Group with 230 units, will provide much-needed housing and could bring new life to the waterfront park.
In October 2021, Dominion President Peter Hall told Knox News the company will have developed housing for more than 730 residents in South Knoxville once people move into the new complex. Hall later told Knox News some units could be available in 2022.
This is the only business already open upon compiling this list, as its first year had some bumps. Some of the challenges were out of River Breeze’s control, with artists canceling their visits to the music venue on the banks of the Holston River due to COVID-19 and a hurricane.
The last show of the season was supposed to be Blackberry Smoke, a beloved band in East Tennessee that performs a multiple-night reunion show each year at The Shed Smokehouse & Juke Joint in Maryville. However, with fans arriving at the venue and some sitting on a parked bus that transports people from downtown to the shows, the performance was canceled due to a faulty PA system.
Here’s hoping River Breeze can find more success in 2023, as the caliber of acts booked to play in 2022 was promising. This unique music venue, similar to the Salvage Station in Asheville, has the potential to elevate Knoxville’s live music scene.
With Cumberland Avenue defined by an influx of cookie-cutter commercial spaces in recent years − and with even more growth coming in the form of864 apartment units − it’s refreshing to see something local planned for “the Strip” from the people behind SouthSide Garage.
This will be the second bar for David Yousif and co-owner James Tourville, who worked with John-Stephen Sanabria to open LiterBoard on Cumberland Avenue in 2017.
Sanabria is a partner in Undeclared, which Tourville said will be “all about having a good time, live music, DJs, fast service, cheap drinks.” An “elevated snack menu” is also part of the plans.
Ryan Wilusz, downtown reporter and urban explorer for Knox News, can be reached at 865-317-5138 or by email at [email protected] Follow Ryan’s work on Instagram @KnoxScruff, and sign up for the free, weekly Urban Knoxville newsletter. Unlock premium perks and support strong local journalism at knoxnews.com/subscribe.