The Daily Pulse:

MPC Denies Pryor Brown Surface-Parking Proposal

In what must be considered a surprise, the Metropolitan Planning Commission voted, 7-6, to deny Royal Properties, developer Mike Conley's real-estate group, the right to use the Pryor Brown parking-garage site for surface parking in the event of its demolition.

MPC staff, noting no rule against it, with the condition the prospective parking lot be improved with landscaping, had recommended approval.

Whether the 1920s parking garage will be demolished, as Royal wishes, claiming the building is unsalvageable, remains to be seen. Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage, represented the opposition, and said she has identified two preservationist developers who are interested in buying the building, which is eligible for historic-preservation tax credits, but that Royal, on advice of counsel, has declined to meet with KH. Trent told MPC a full city block of surface parking would be bad for downtown, for Gay Street's recent national Great Streets designation, for the historic character of the neighborhood, and especially for the residents across Market Street who are obliged to see it daily.

Discussion among MPC members revolved around the need for parking in the area seemed to be tilting in Royal's favor--despite the fact, not brought up in the discussion, that the demolition would result in a net loss of parking spaces. Commissioner Michael Kane noted that a denial might result in a blank spot without either buildings or parking. But commissioner Art Clancy called the surface parking lot a "bad idea," and suggested denying use of the site as surface parking might promote better development.  

There's some history involved. In 1996, concerning this same block, Royal asked to be excused from the city's Streetscape guidelines for parking lots, on the grounds that their parking-lot use of this block was strictly temporary, and that they were soon to build an office tower there. Back then, the MPC, then led by former UT Chancellor Jack Reese, who was outspokenly unconvinced about Royal's imminent building plans, declined Royal's parking-lot proposal--but upon appeal that decision was overruled by City Council.

Seventeen years later, that office tower promised in the 20th century remains in the indefinite future, reportedly 15 years or more away.

The Pryor Brown parking garage, which began as a livery stable, has some interesting history in itself, as we noted back in June.

The Downtown Design Review Board's public consideration of the Pryor Brown's fate has been pending this use-on-review decision, but its salvation may ultimately depend on the owner's choices, and gentle persuasion. 

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