An Urban Core on the Strip

Jared Schenk and Doug Tichenor

An Urban Core on the Strip

A proposal to build four mixed-use buildings along Cumberland Avenue would add more than 800 residential units to the UT campus area.

by scott barker • August 17, 2022
Jared Schenk and Doug Tichenor
Jared Schenk, a partner in Core Spaces, and Doug Tichenor, the firm's development director, address the Knoxville Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday.

A Chicago-based development firm is planning a massive mixed-use project spanning four blocks along Cumberland Avenue that promises to continue the transformation of the Strip into a more urban corridor.

The development would house approximately 2,200 residents and provide parking for about 2,100 vehicles.

Core Spaces, which specializes in residential projects in university towns, intends to build four eight-to-10 story buildings with a total of 864 apartments on Cumberland between 19th and 22nd streets, plus ground-level retail space and a 10-story parking garage on White Avenue.

“This is going to be one of the largest undertakings our partnership has ever done,” Doug Tichenor, director of development for Core Spaces, said in a brief interview on Tuesday. "We're excited about it."

The firm has not made an official announcement of the project. Its plans came to light when Core Spaces applied for variations from the Cumberland Avenue form-based code from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The board granted 14 variances, which mostly involved building heights and setbacks, at its Tuesday meeting.

“I personally don’t have a lot of qualms with this,” said BZA Chair Daniel Odle. “We have a housing need, that’s for sure. And this will be a radical change for this area.”

Though the project involves four buildings spread over four blocks, Core Spaces is looking at it as an integrated development. The project is called Hub on Campus Knoxville. Hub on Campus is the firm’s flagship brand, with versions in university towns such as Tuscaloosa, Ala; East Lansing, Mich.; Gainesville, Fla.; Madison, Wisc.; Lexington, Ky.; and Tucson, Ariz.

Hub on Campus Knoxville will fill all or parts of the 1900, 2000 and 2100 blocks of Cumberland on the north side of the Strip, plus the 1900 block on the south side of the street. At present, the buildings are numbered but not named.

The component structures, which will also contain ground-level commercial spaces, are:

  • Building 1: A 10-story, 313-unit building filling the 1900 block on the north side of Cumberland, which currently is where the venerable Stefanos Pizza and University Liquors are located.
  • Building 2: A 10-story, 146-unit building occupying most of the 2000 block on the north side of Cumberland now occupied by a Shell station and convenience store. The Starbucks at Cumberland and 21st Street will not be affected. 
  • Building 3: An eight-story, 168-unit building in the 21oo block of Cumberland, where Mellow Mushroom is currently located. The Cook Out at Cumberland and 22nd Street will remain in place.
  • Building 4: An eight-story, 237-unit building occupying the entire 1900 block on the south side of Cumberland, with a portion extending south to Lake Avenue.   
  • Parking garage: Fronting White Avenue between 19th and 20th streets, the 10-story garage will provide parking for all four residential properties and provide approximately 300 spaces for use by Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

The project will double the number of multi-story, mixed-use buildings that have been erected or are under construction along the Strip. Combined, the buildings will house approximately 2,200 residents and provide parking spaces for about 2,100 vehicles.

“It will be a big investment in a critical corridor of Knoxville,” said Stephanie Welch, the city’s chief economic and community development officer. “The vision of Cumberland Avenue has been about creating an urban feel with a mix of uses. And this does that.”

Core Spaces worked with officials at Covenant Health and Children’s Hospital to meet their parking needs, and consulted with leaders at the University of Tennessee and the City of Knoxville.

“There’s a diversity of stakeholders involved and a diversity of needs,” said attorney Richard Graves, who along with Benjamin Mullins provides local legal representation for Core Spaces.

Graves noted that more than half of the units would be studio, one- or two-bedroom apartments, instead of the four-bedroom configurations common in apartment buildings marketed to students. The apartments also will be marketed at hospital staff members and others who don’t go to UT.

“We don’t see this as a student housing development,” Mullins said. “We see this as a multifamily development.”

Tichenor said the building-height variances — the 10-story buildings as designed would be two stories and 25 feet above the limit for the Cumberland Avenue corridor — were needed primarily because of soil conditions and topography constraints precluded placing parking spaces and other structural components underground. 

One of the variances the BZA granted would allow a drive-thru on the ground floor of the building on the 2000 block to accommodate the relocation of the Taco Bell from the south side of Cumberland Avenue. The restaurant’s current building is in the middle of the Building 4 footprint. 

Tichenor said it’s too early and the prices of building materials too volatile to give an estimate for the amount of Core Spaces’ investment, though he said it would be “several hundred million” dollars. The timeframe isn’t set either.

“We’re wanting to move fast,” he said. “We’re looking to start early next year.”

The property does not need to be rezoned and plans do not need to be approved by the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission or City Council, according to Peter Ahrens, the city’s plans review and inspections director.