City Fields Redevelopment Ideas for Old South High School

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UPDATE: More than two dozen people — mostly folks from the community and a handful of developers — turned out Thursday night for a brainstorming meeting on potential future development of the Old South High School building in South Knoxville.

Knoxville Community Development Director Becky Wade started by recapping the building’s Golden Years history since becoming vacant in the early 1990s, which you can read more about below. But people gathered in the library at Dogwood Elementary School had an eye on the future, and ideas floated for the dilapidated former schoolhouse ranged from turning it into another high school to renovating it for housing, such as senior living facilities or dorm rooms.

Turns out, at least one developer already has sights on the property as the potential future location for a senior residential facility, according to Mike Cohen, a representative for Dover Development of Knoxville. The company is already working to convert the Historic Knoxville High School building on E. Fifth Ave. into 75 senior apartments, and Cohen said the firm was interested in the former South Knoxville schoolhouse as well.

“I’d love to see (the building) used for something to benefit the community instead of just going to waste,” said Kelley DeLuca, a nearby resident and president of the Lindbergh Forest Neighborhood Association. That could include mixed-use housing or possibly other family-oriented development, she said.

But ultimately any future use for the property will be in the hands of interested developers and the city of Knoxville. Wade made it clear that the city had no budget or plans to renovate the property, instead seeking to sell it to a private developer through a request for proposals (RFP) process.

“What we don’t want to do is get started down a road where people aren’t able to do what they say they’re going to do — that’s what got us here and it’s unacceptable,” she said. “That’s why you do an RFP process instead of an auction, because you never know who is going to drive by.”

A request for proposals will likely go out within the next couple of months, Wade said, and ideas may be vetted by the fall. Ultimately it will be up to the Knoxville City Council to lend final approval.

ORIGINAL: After years of idling vacant, the city of Knoxville is again turning its sights to potentially redeveloping and revitalizing an old school building in South Knoxville.

Tonight, Thurs., July 23, the Knoxville Community Development Department is hosting a public meeting to hear ideas for the Old South High School building at 953 E. Moody Ave. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at Dogwood Elementary School, 705 Tipton Ave. in Knoxville. It is free and open to the public.

Can’t make the meeting? Check below for live updates starting at 5:30 p.m., or follow Knoxville Mercury reporter Clay Duda on Twitter at @ClayDuda.

The city is hoping to gather input from people about the best uses for the historic building before seeking proposals from developers. The city plans to resell the iconic structure to a developer “who will renovate it and bring it back into reuse,” according to a Community Development Director Becky Wade.

“The building has a high sentimental and historic value to the community,” Wade said in a release announcing the meeting. “Our aim is to see how the community wants this building to be used and, in the context of the current market, manage its redevelopment so that it can once again be a South Knoxville asset.”

Redevelopment plans for the property didn’t pan out too well for the Old South High School’s previous owner.

Vacated in 1991, the former school building has set empty since and fallen into disrepair. In 2008, Bahman Kasraei paid the city $117,700 at auction for the structure and 2.2-acre lot. He told the News Sentinel at the time that the purchase was “an impulse buy” after he spotted the auction signs, and he envisioned converting the place into condos.

But those plans never materialized, and in 2012 the city threatened to fix up the property and bill Kasraei for the work if he didn’t do it himself. About a year later the City Council voted to re-purchase the property for $189,000, the value of its most recent appraisal. That same year the nearly 80-year old property was included on Knox Heritage’s list of endangered historic properties.

Today the building remains mostly boarded up and dotted with broken windows. Portions of the roof have collapsed, and some rear walls are supported with braces. Click through the gallery at the top of this post to see the building’s current condition.

Clay Duda

Former Mercury staff reporter Clay Duda has covered gangs in New York, housing busts in Atlanta, and wildfires in Northern California. And lots of stuff about Knoxville.

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