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Developer Nick Cazana $78 million Knoxville Plaza Concept, Including
 a 200 Room Hotel, Subject to Design Review Board and... Financing

By Hayes Hickman, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 21, 2009--Metropolitan Plaza developer Nick Cazana can't guarantee that financing will be there to build his $78 million downtown Knoxville hotel-office-condo complex all at once, but that's what he's shooting for.

"We can do the garage and offices," Cazana told members of the city's Downtown Design Review Board as the project's conceptual plans were presented Wednesday. But "if you talk to someone about a hotel today, you hear a 'click' at the other end of the telephone."

That's not to say the project's 200-room boutique hotel will be postponed until a later construction phase, though.

"We're moving forward with doing the whole project at one time," Cazana specified after the board's meeting. "There's no talk of phasing at this point."

In addition to the hotel component, Cazana's two-tower plan calls for 125,000 square feet of office space, approximately 24 condominiums and ground-floor retail businesses all served by a 450-space parking garage. The project -- slated for the site of the state Supreme Court Building fronting Locust Street -- also includes a pedestrian bridge across Henley Street linking to the Knoxville Convention Center.

Asked whether the bridge would actually connect directly inside the convention center, Cazana said it would be a "public connector," but emphasized that design specifics have yet to be decided.

Likewise, the office tower should be five or six floors tall, and the hotel/condo tower will be between 10 and 15 stories, he said.

The project, which could dramatically reshape the downtown Knoxville skyline, became the subject of a lawsuit at the time it was first announced by Cazana and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam in January 2008.

The city was sued in Knox County Chancery Court by a proxy of downtown Holiday Inn Select owner Franklin L. Haney.

Knox County Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler ruled in October 2008 that the project's proposed use of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement and federal Empowerment Zone bonds would not violate the terms of the 2004 city voter referendum prohibiting the use of any public funds to subsidize construction of a convention center headquarters hotel.

On Wednesday, though, members of the design review board were more interested in the adjoining 450-space parking garage.

Board chairwoman Kim Henry recommended that the project's architects, McCarty Holsaple McCarty, not underestimate the pedestrian presence along Henley Street, where the garage will front some 300 feet of sidewalk between Main Street and Cumberland Avenue.

"It will not be a solid wall," Cazana assured.

Cazana's presentation to the design review board was an informal one, made in an attempt to glean some early feedback on the plans before more detailed schematics are developed. The developer said he could return for another informal follow-up with the board within six months. Eventually, however, the final design will require the board's official approval.

Hayes Hickman may be reached at 865-342-6323.


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