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McClung: Demolition will start soon

Demolition of the last McClung warehouse building will begin "mobilization" on Friday, and be done in two to four days, according to Alvin Nance, executive director of Knoxville's Community Development Corp. At a 5:00 press conference, he and Knoxville Director of Redevelopment Bob Whetsel emphasized the necessity and urgency of tearing down the century-old building, which suffered roof damage due to fire, and extensive water damage from firehoses, which Whetsel said was exacerbated by freezing weather, which can cause further damage to wet wood.

A tiny drone hovered in the building and took photographs that apparently didn't offer much reason for hope. A report by the structural engineering firm Natural Resource Management released by the city this afternoon, warned of a possible "cascading structural failure" if the building is allowed to stand.

KCDC has already hired JW Demolition, which Knoxville Director of Public Service David Brace said has a reputation for sophisticated salvage work of valuable wood, bricks and steel. They're also contracted to demolish Baptist Hospital. Removal of the rubble will take another several weeks.

Six stories tall on the Jackson Avenue side, and eight stories tall on the railroad side, the last C.M. McClung building is one of the biggest standing buildings to be demolished in downtown history. In fact, it's probably the tallest building ever demolished downtown, rivaled only by the seven-story Empire Building at Market and Church, torn down in the 1970s. A few other demolitions, like that of the News Sentinel building and the old Tennessee Mill and Mine buildings, both torn down on State Street 10-15 years ago, may have rivaled it in floor space.

Demolition will cost $127,000, and will be covered by the city's policy with Travelers Insurance.

The only surprise at the conference was that the long one-story brick structure immediately west of the inferno site will also be demolished. The approximately 100-foot-long bring commercial building, with six large show windows, appears to date from the 1920s, and features an eye-catching diamond pattern in the brickwork. The building lacks a roof and a back; it's really just a three-sided shell. But Whetsel said it would go, too; the remaining wall is partly "bowed," he said.  

Brandon Pace, architect and partner in the preservationist architectural firm of Sanders Pace, whose firm is directly across the street from the fire site, was at the press conference. He has long found that remaining building facade, untouched by the fire, appealing, and thought it might be attractive to certain developers. He pointed out that it's anchored on its western end by a small intact building that still has a roof. Preservationist developers have done interesting things with less. Both the facade and the intact building will also be razed as part of this weekend's clean sweep of the McClung warehouse and everything associated with them.

Pace, whose building is the only one likely to be damaged by a collapse, isn't convinced that nothing could be done to save the tall building, either. 

"The city's concerned about liability," he said. "I understand, but I don't agree."

By this time next week, there will be no buildings on the north side of Jackson Avenue between Gay Street and the Southeastern Glass building on Broadway. The property the city recently purchased will soon have nothing on it. Without any buildings, it's unclear what the draw will be. What remains is a narrow strip of land, including a steep hill, immediately adjacent to a freight yard. It will be a challenge to find any new construction that will approach the promise of the Jackson Avenue warehouses, 15 years ago, when some of us first started caring about them.

Following is the city's press release, from earlier this afternoon, about the state of the remaining McClung building.

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REPORT: McCLUNG BUILDING AT RISK OF COLLAPSE

A report released today by structural engineering firm Natural Resource Management concluded that the remaining McClung Warehouse building on Jackson Avenue is at risk of a "cascading structural failure."

Mayor Madeline Rogero told City Council members Tuesday night that the remaining McClung building will need to be demolished for public safety reasons. Knoxville's Community Development Corp. is in the process of hiring a demolition company to perform the work.

"We purchased the McClung Warehouses last November with the intention of redeveloping the site, which is prime real estate, highly visible from Interstate 40," Mayor Rogero said.

"It is heartbreaking to have to proceed with redevelopment without these historic structures, but public safety concerns are forcing the City to go that route. We will be bringing these properties back onto the tax rolls with a high-quality redevelopment project."

Alvin Nance, KCDC's executive director/CEO, and Bob Whetsel, the City's director of redevelopment, will answer any media questions at 5 p.m. today at the McClung Warehouses fire scene on Jackson Avenue.

NRM's report states that roof beams appear close to collapse and adds: "If a cascading structural failure were to occur, it could destabilize the walls and possibly cause a complete building collapse."

Mayor Rogero reiterated the City's commitment to redeveloping all of the properties it owns on Jackson Avenue. The City is hopeful that a developer or developers may be able to assume ownership of the properties from the City by the end of the year, following a public input process and the issuance of a Request for Proposals.

The City acquired the properties in November 2013 in a settlement with a bankruptcy trustee. Three buildings on the block burned in a 2007 fire, and a fourth building was lost in a blaze last Saturday. The remaining building that is about to be demolished suffered heavy damage in Saturday's fire.

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