Before Thomas Krajewski became professionally involved in developing Knoxville real estate, he was personally involved in exploring it. An avid cyclist and outdoor enthusiast, Krajewski grew up in Knoxville and always loved the city’s urban wilderness. His latest project, a development in South Knoxville called Baker Creek Bottoms, will take advantage of that urban treasure and aid more people in getting access to the protected land.
Baker Creek Bottoms will sit across from the 100-acre Baker Creek Preserve, which features 7.1 miles of trails and, more importantly, provides access to the Knoxville Urban Wilderness. Visitors exploring that 1,000-acre preserve will find more than 50 miles of trails and four historic Civil War sites.
"It’s a part of the city that’s unique, and more people should have access to it," Krajewski says.
The Baker Creek Bottoms project is the latest in the ongoing redevelopment in South Knoxville. The mixed-use facility, which is on the site of a former Baptist church, aims to take full advantage of its location adjacent to the Baker Creek Preserve and the Knoxville Urban Wilderness.
"This will be a jumping off point for adventure," says Krajewski.
The project is expected to include multiple tenants, including a bike shop, coffee shop, and yoga studio, with a vision of also housing a boutique hotel, a brewery, restaurant, and performing arts venue. The site’s location makes it the perfect spot for drawing "adventure tourists" who want access to the urban wilderness, as well as serving as a hub in South Knoxville for outdoor enthusiasts.
Krajewski is working with two other developers, Tom Weiss and Michael S. Wood, to transform the five-building, 80,000-square-foot Sevier Heights Baptist Church complex located at 3700 Lancaster Drive into a modern facility that reflects the growing interests of the neighborhood. Construction began in the late summer of 2017, and tenants are expected to start moving in this year.
"Our smaller spaces are verbally committed to," Krajewski says. “Once we get the commitment to one of the larger spaces, we will be moving forward.”
One of the larger spaces will most likely be filled by a restaurant, or a combination of restaurants. "We had planned on going with a single tenant—and that may happen," Krajewski says. “But it’s a very big space, and we’ve had conversations with other interested parties of perhaps breaking up the space into a couple of tenants and taking a different approach. There’s a lot of interest, but we’re still figuring out what will work best.”
The same goes for the space that’s been designated for lodging. Initial plans called for a boutique hotel, but conversations continue there as well, and the project could include a mix of living spaces including both a hotel and condominiums.
A new brewery is also expected to be one of the first group of businesses that are part of the development. The project will be completed over several phases after the completion of the first group. The city of Knoxville’s Community Development Department provided two $150,000 historic preservation grants for restoration work on the complex’s oldest buildings, and the community has been very supportive of the project from the start.
"It was a really interesting process," says Krajewski. “There’s a lot of history (there) as a church campus. We were sensitive to that, respecting the history but at the same time giving it new life—it has been vacant for more than a dozen years now.”
"The community has been nothing but supportive from the start," he continued. “In our first public meeting, I think I was interrupted four times by applause. That doesn’t happen very often that you get the public support like this. I think everyone is excited to turn this property into something that can be a real resource for the neighborhood.”
While negotiations are still ongoing, Krajewski expects a big tenant to officially sign on shortly, enabling them to move forward with the first phase. He’s hoping that Baker Creek Bottoms is just the beginning of a greater focus of development in South Knoxville.
"We envision this as the start of better utilizing the urban wilderness," Krajewski says. “We want to create a gathering place that will really help this neighborhood grow.”
Written by Jeff Banowetz for RootsRated Media in partnership with Visit Knoxville.