The Daily Pulse:

Pryor Brown Doomed?

Assuming a demolition permit filed yesterday is approved, and there may be no legal reason to prevent it, the embattled Pryor Brown parking garage may be torn down soon. City policy-development director Bill Lyons sent the following message to City Council yesterday:

"Councilmembers,  I regret having to inform you that the owners of the Pryor Brown Garage have applied for a demolition permit.  It is in process and while we have no direct information in regard to details, obviously once the permit is issued the garage could be taken down at any time.  Thank you very much."

Owner Mike Conley, who also owns the large surface parking lot next to it, made his intentions known last year. Local government bodies have criticized the plan. Last year, the Downtown Design Review Board tried to block the demolition until city administration officials questioned the board's authority to do so. The Metropolitan Planning Commission also criticized the plan, denying Conley's proposal to use the property for surface parking, to augment his lot, already one of the biggest surface lots downtown, and the single biggest blank space on Gay Street. That decision seems bound for litigation.
 
Though Conley has emphasized the building's age and poor condition, once declaring it unsalvageable, at least four preservationist developers, including some of the downtown revival's leading players, have expressed interest in purchasing the building for the purpose of converting it for mixed-used development, including residences and commercial space. Some are known to have made offers for it.
 
Conley bought the adjacent property in the 1990s, after it was cleared for a federal-courthouse project that was never built. Almost 20 years ago, Conley announced plans for a new office tower on the site. In 1996, he got permission from a sharply divided MPC to dispense with the city's standard Streetscape guidelines for fencing and tree planting, assuring the board the sub-standard parking lot would be a strictly "interim" use.
 
He still speaks vaguely of building an office building there not immediately, but sometime several years in the future. 
 
The property has been associated with the name Pryor Brown since the 1800s, when it was the site of a livery stable. Pryor Brown, the entrepreneur, was a pioneer in transportation services, and launched one of Knoxville's first automobile taxi companies from this site. Built in two stages, in 1925 and 1929, the Pryor Brown Garage was Knoxville's first multi-level parking garage, and today appears to be one of the oldest parking garages in America. Unlike most garages, it's a mixed-use building, with several retail spaces on its ground floor, and has been used as a model for other mixed-use parking garages.
 
 

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