City to purchase McClung Warehouses with goal of redevelopment

11:26 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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After a massive fire and years of neglect and legal wrangling, the City of Knoxville announced Tuesday they have reached a deal to purchase the McClung Warehouses for redevelopment.

Mayor Madeline Rogero said she was thrilled to announce the city has reached an agreement with the bankruptcy trustee to purchase the six buildings and 1.7 acres of land on Jackson Avenue for $1.45 million.  That agreement resolves all legal claims against the building.

The abandoned warehouses are highly visible from Interstate 40, and very noticeable to visitors.  Mayor Rogero noted they've been "deteriorating while the rest of downtown revived."

The deal must be approved by City Council at their meeting in two weeks.  All members of council were on hand for the announcement.

"Thousands of people drive by everyday as they drive downtown," Rogero said. "This [the McClung Warehouses] is what they see, they see the backs of these burnout buildings." 

Mayor Rogero said the city would work to stabilize and protect the buildings, then issue a request for proposals, to find "a responsible developer to give them new life."

In addition to city leaders and media, several people who live and do business in downtown were at the press conference. Mayor Rogero said she looked forward to bringing them some new neighbors.

"Downtown knoxville, [and] the city of Knoxville, will be better when this area becomes thriving and that's the kind of town I want to live in," said Developer David Dewhirst.

McClung Warehouses History

A massive fire consumed the McClung Warehouses downtown a little more than six years ago. The fire hurt three members of the Knoxville fire department as they tried to put out the blaze near the corner of Jackson Avenue and Broadway.

According to KUB, it took enough water to fill nine Olympic sized swimming pools to put the fire out.

After the fire, the building's owner, Mark Saroff, filed a lawsuit against the City of Knoxville and the Knoxville Community Development Corporation. He argued the two parties worked to hurt the property value of the buildings after the fire.

Eventually, Saroff went into bankruptcy. A trustee named John Newton then became responsible for selling the property to pay off investors.

Previous Story: McClung Warehouses make 2013 Knox Heritage Fragile 15 List

The McClung Warehouses currently sit on Knox Heritage's Fragile 15 List. According to that preservation company, construction workers first built part of the buildings in 1911. Knox Heritage said the buildings were originally wholesale warehouses for the regional hardware company, C.M. McClung & Company.

After the fire, Knox Heritage had called on Newton to sell the buildings quickly so a developer could restore them.

Knox Heritage Executive Director Kim Trent said she was excited by Tuesday's announcement.

"We can really see a vision for what they can be and so this will be the perfect illustration of how something can be turned around," she said.

Prior to Tuesday's announcement, downtown developer David Dewhirst had told 10News that the structural integrity of the warehouses would likely be of major concern to any future developer who takes interest in the buildings.

He added that work had to be done to the adjacent sidewalks that had crumbled down toward the nearby railway.

"We just need public infrastructure to be redeveloped and made sound," he said. "So, that when the McClung Warehouse property issue gets resolved, it's ready to move forward."

Previous Story: Two recent fires spark new questions about McClung Warehouse future

Since the original McClung Warehouse fire in February of 2007, two other fires have occurred on the property. KFD has repeatedly called the structures a hazard. Department spokesperson D.J. Corcoran even once went as far to say they were a "ticking time bomb."

Jeff Kindrick, Joe Lee and Jeff Lee were the three KFD firefighters who sustained injuries in the 2007 incident. The three men were on a higher floor within one of the buildings when the fire first started.

They escaped the McClung Warehouses by climbing down a hose on the building's side.

Kindrick told 10News the incident caught everyone by surprise.
"I'm just glad it happened when I was in the company of firefighters far better than me," Kindrick said. "We had each other to rely on and we all got out of there."

The 2007 fire was so strong that burned through the awnings of buildings downtown. KFD still has yet to determine the exact cause of that blaze.

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