In 1893, prominent Knoxville businessman Calvin McClung built the first of five warehouses on Jackson Avenue to serve as the shipping headquarters for his family’s mail-order business. For most of the 20th century, those warehouses lined the northern boundary of what’s now known as the Old City, standing watch as Knoxville stretched out and expanded below them.
Now, only two of the giant, run-down buildings remain, serving as a visible reminder of the city’s industrial past and a crumbling symbol of its on-going fight to contain and control blight.
A ruling in US bankruptcy court Friday morning clears the way for the city to purchase the properties. Eventually, the city plans to entertain proposals from private developers.
The ruling follows a five-year legal battle between the city of Knoxville, Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) and the warehouses’ owner Mark Saroff. After a massive fire destroyed three of the buildings in 2007, KCDC designated the remaining buildings blighted and began the process of purchasing and redeveloping them. But Saroff countered with a lawsuit claiming the city and KCDC were taking his property without fairly compensating him.
In 2010, Saroff was forced into bankruptcy and a trustee took over the properties. Earlier this year, the city reached an agreement with the trustee to buy the warehouses and adjacent lots at a cost of $1.45 million. Friday morning’s ruling by Judge Marcia Phillips Parsons approves that deal and allows the city to move ahead with its redevelopment plans.