One of Knoxville’s premier real estate developers offered a picture of sweeping change and growth for the city during a Monday night meeting with the South Knoxville Alliance.
Oliver Smith, president of Oliver Smith Realty and Auction Company Inc., said the 60,000 square-foot property is nearly 80 percent pre-leased with restaurants and retail outlets moving into the re-purposed space.
Letters of intent prohibit the firm from revealing the names of any of the five committed restaurants moving into the complex, though Smith expects the space to open to the public within the next nine to 12 months. The building also plans to house 100 loft apartments and 500 new parking spaces to accommodate the hopeful residents.
Oliver Smith Realty acquired the 15.5 acre property in October. Originally constructed in 1931, the Chapman Highway structure has stood vacant since the Sara Lee Corporation, operating under the name of Kern’s Bakery, ceased production there in 2012.
In his development of other historic properties across the city, including the redevelopment of the downtown William F. Conley Building into an Embassy Suites, Smith said that the level of national interest in South Knoxville and the city at large has never been as high as it is now.
“Never in my lifetime have I seen an area go from kind of a slow pace to a rocket in such a short period of time,” Smith said, noting he only began receiving an influx of development requests from national businesses in the last 18 months. “We don’t see any slow down in interest level in your area (South Knoxville).”
Citing demographic studies conducted through his firm, Smith points to the “triangle” of investment and redevelopment at the University of Tennessee, downtown Knoxville and South Knoxville as all being part of a “wave” of growth that will soon touch the South Knoxville waterfront.
The University of Tennessee is currently investing over $1 billion in redevelopment to its campus, while Knoxville’s downtown has experienced a slew of investment and redevelopment over the past decade.
“You guys are riding a wave that you rarely see in the real estate and development business,” Smith said. “We hope the whole area from the bridge down to the (Chapman Highway) Kroger will be revitalized.”
Though unable to provide specifics, Smith said he’s also been in the talks with major hotel chains that have expressed interest in potential expansion to the South Knoxville waterfront.
Drawing comparisons to neighboring Nashville, Smith said the development pattern taking hold in South Knoxville could very likely mirror that of East Nashville, long regarded as a hub of trendy businesses and restaurants.
Downtown Nashville, like downtown Knoxville, has experienced an immense growth in the past decade, leaving neighboring portions of the city like East Nashville to absorb the more “eclectic” restaurants and outlets that don’t fit the mold provided in downtown spaces.
“The buzz is not going away,” Smith said of the many development projects across South Knoxville. “As long as people see things going vertical, they’ll be excited.”


Photo by: Tanner Hancock

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