KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If this year's land deals are any indication, 2023 is going to be a big year for downtown Knoxville development.
Numerous high-profile properties changed hands in 2022, and local developers have signaled they're ready to change the face of a part of Knoxville that sat for decades collecting dust and grime.
According to Nick McBride, the county's register of deeds, the entire county, downtown included, is in the middle of significant change.
"You look at the Dutchtown Road area, you look at Hardin Valley -- it's just a new day in Knox County. It really, really is. The transformation is unbelievable," he said.
In 2022, the total value of land sales in the county reached $6 billion, McBride said. The year before it hovered near $6 billion. It's been on an upward trend in recent years, he said.
By his calculation, there were some $60 million in sales of property from the 100 block of South Gay Street all the way down Gay to the Andrew Johnson Building near the Gay Street Bridge.
Boghani Properties LLC, one of the busier land collectors in 2022, bought the Emporium Building at the southeast corner of Gay and Jackson Avenue and a nearby parking lot for $24.75 million, records show.
It's not yet clear what their plans are. The 1898 building features residential and office space including the Arts & Culture Alliance. The alliance has about seven more years to go on its lease, suggesting it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
In 2022, Boghani also for $6.3 million swept up the J.C. Penney Building at 408 S. Gay St., home to condos as well as tenants such as Kilwin's and Maple Hall, records show.
Downtown developer Tim Hill, president of Hatcher Hill Properties, was part of a group that developed the Penney Building. They sold a few properties this year, such as the Aveda School and Maple Hall, Babalu Restaurant, Kilwins chocolates on Gay Street, Soccer Taco on Market Square and others.
Now he's getting ready to kick off the new year with a $30 million project at the corner of Summit Mill and Gay Street.
This half acre investment will have 57 condominiums and about 24,000 square feet of of retail. Hill said, it will have two buildings with a pedestrian thoroughfare.
This is a two-year project that will begin in mid January. Hill said these developments are helping improve the community and there's plenty of land left downtown to invest on and develop.
For the years to come, Hill said he's expecting to see steady growth downtown. He predicts that downtown Knoxville will see new businesses pop up and existing businesses thrive.
“Thirty years ago, downtown Knoxville was the weakest market -- virtually no market," Hill said. "Today, it's the strongest market in all of Knoxville.”
Another high profile downtown shopper in 2022: the Ephant Group.
Its acquisitions in 2022 include the parking lot at 130 S. Central St. for $4 million. The lot is across the street from Merchants of Beer in the Old City.
In July 2022, it also acquired the old Vine Furniture complex that operated for decades on the hill leading down to the Old City on Summit Hill Drive. It got the section at 122 W. Summit Hill for $4.75 million, records show.
Ephant's focus includes developing hotels and hospitality space.
McBride said title companies have been busy and lenders have been busy in 2022. The same was true in 2021.
"Talking to lenders, lenders have plenty of money. Of course, rates have gone up," he said.
Even with higher rates, developers are still borrowing money, McBride said.
Not only are big banks continuing to lend money, but local credit unions also are loaning to those who want to make big land purchases, he said.
Looking ahead, McBride said it'll be worth keeping an eye on the long empty Pryor Brown parking garage and the surrounding lot on Gay Street north Cumberland Avenue. That's ripe for a project of significant size that includes a mix of uses, he said.