Old Knoxville High School plan concerns some residents

(WBIR) Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles organized a meeting Sunday night at the Knox County Health Department to hear residents' opinions on a proposal that would transform the building to a senior housing facility.

Broyles said she does not oppose the senior housing proposal, but she said she has received numerous emails from constituents who do.

"Almost every email and phone call that I've gotten is that this is going to be an economic downer," she said.

Broyles went on to say some residents complaints about seniors living in the area were unfounded. The groups behind the project, the Family Pride Corporation and the Southeastern Housing Foundation, feel an added elderly presence to Central Street corridor could boost activity in the area.

Previous Story: Proposal would revamp Historic Knoxville High School

"It would be a total historic preservation of the property," said Rick Dover, general manager of the Family Pride Corporation. "We would create nearly 20 full-time jobs, have 100 people living there with visitors and friends coming everyday."

The old high school is located off Central street near Interstate 40. Both the Old City to the south and the Happy Holler district to the North have experienced a resurgence over the last decade.

Some are curious whether senior housing would spur or stall progress along that corridor.

"Our neighborhoods have a serious issue with connecting downtown," said Old North Knoxville resident Lauren Rider. "We've got some serious barriers down Broadway and Central and we've got a lot of buildings that are sitting there vacant and undeveloped."

The senior housing proposal narrowly beat a plan submitted by developers David Dewhirst and Mark Heinz that would have instead made the high school a mixed-use property with retail, offices, and homes. But, Broyles said the senior housing proposal was chosen by officials because it agreed to buy the property for $500,000, while the Dewhirst plan made no such offer.

East Knoxville resident Jimmy Ryan is a part of United Pursuit, a Knoxville Ministry, located just down the street from the high school on Fifth Avenue. He said he was disturbed by financial aspect of the senior housing proposal.

"I believe that this could be a short sighted plan," he said.

Dewhirst said there was no bad blood between him and the Family Pride Corporation and the Southeastern Housing Foundation. However, he told the audience Sunday night he still felt his firm's proposal was superior because it had greater odds to increase activity in the area.

Broyles said she plans to ask the Knox County Commission at a work session Monday to postpone its planned vote on the senior housing proposal. She said she wants to provide commissioners and residents more time to look it over. Knox County Commissioner Dr. Richard Briggs also attended Sunday's meeting. He agreed more time should be had to discuss the tenets of the plan.


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