Farragut Hotel gets OK

By Mike Steely


The multimillion-dollar renovation of the historic Farragut Hotel at 530 Gay Street got a go-ahead vote from Knoxville City Council Tuesday night with only one councilman objecting. The project, by Rick Dover’s Dover Development Corporation, received approval to become the recipient of a $2.9 million loan if approved by the federal Housing and Urban Development. The city will apply and then loan the money to Dover.

The 18-month renovation is expected to create an upscale hotel and create 83 full-time jobs downtown.

The project was also granted a 25-year property tax break as part of the city’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, meaning that the site would continue to pay the current tax rate until the end of the agreement.

The parking of guests’ cars brought the objection because Dover, who bought the hotel building nine months ago, had initially requested free parking in the State Street Garage. A final compromise was worked out so the hotel would pay the current residential rate of $32.50 per space, per month for 160 spaces for ten years, at which time the rate would be prorated.

While Councilman Nick Della Volpe applauded Dover’s renovation and restoration of several area projects and complimented the firm for “quality workmanship,” he said that the hotel spaces might take up residential spaces and that all other hotels downtown have built their own garages. Dover said that the hotel was built back when the guests arrived by trolley or train. He indicated that the new facility would supply valet parking.

Della Volpe and a couple of councilmen agreed that another floor or two might eventually be needed at the State Street facility to handle the increased parking. Although Della Volpe suggested the hotel pay the current commercial or business parking rate instead of what he called “a dollar a day” rate, the council voted 8-1 to approve the parking offer.

In other actions, the council voted to support the Development Board for qualifying PILOT programs involving low-income housing tax credits and to fund façade improvements at the Regas Building at 328 Gay Street for $50,000.

The planning commission will be responding to a request from the city council to prepare local regulations concerning cell towers in the city. The vote was unanimous in the request and then Gerald Green, MPC Director, asked the council to prioritize the requests by their importance and give some indication as to when they want a reply.

The contract with Bell & Associates for realigning the Fort Dickerson Road was increased by $ 54,477 to a new total of $ 1,143,010. The council also approved a donation of $ 14,934 from the Fire Fighter’s Association for the “Learn Not To Burn” program to educate children about fire safety.

Safety City, on a request from the Police Department, was granted $605,000 in an agreement with K & F Construction to build eight new miniature structures there. Councilman Marshall Stair questioned the $75,000 per structure cost. Chief David Rausch said that there are 38 miniature structures there now and that more than 148,000 children have been there for safety classes.

“It is a gem in our city,” the police chief said. Safety City is the only such miniature safety city in the state. The motion to fund passed without objection.

The council recognized Bob Whetsel, Director of the Redevelopment Office, who is retiring this week and who spoke briefly. He is being replaced by Dawn Michelle Foster and Anne Wallace moves up to Assistant Director. Whetsel’s last city council meeting was a “working” session for him and he was called on often for information about different agenda items.

“He served during 500 city council meetings and under four mayors,” Mayor Madeline Rogero said. She said that so much of the change downtown was “because of Bob’s work.”