- The MAC building on Fifth Avenue is being demolished for a unique apartment concept.
- MAC at Fifth would include street-level units where entrepreneurs could live, work, and sell their products.
- Housing is needed throughout Knoxville, including downtown, which is 99.59% occupied.
- Amenities could include 50 parking spaces, a fitness center and a rooftop terrace for residents.
The outdated MAC building, identified by its iconic sign on the north edge of downtown Knoxville, is scheduled for demolition. But more people will be able to enjoy the property through a development that blurs the lines between residential and retail.
MAC at Fifth, a approximately $40 million project by Rhode Island-based Bluedog Capital Partners, will provide ground floor units where entrepreneurs can live, work and sell products.
The new building would be U-shaped, five stories high, and stretch along West Fifth Avenue between Williams Street and King Street. Bluedog, which Sarah Harris, director of acquisitions, recently expanded into her hometown of Knoxville, acquired the property in May for $2.1 million.
Demolition could begin early next year and developers hope to open MAC in fifth place in 2024.
The team is considering how the iconic sign could be integrated into the design of the new building. No renders were shared publicly.
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Bluedog also has a satellite office in Florida and is the group behind Vital at Springbrook Farm, a 300-unit apartment building expected to be completed in January near McGhee Tyson Airport.
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But the MAC at Fifth project is special to Harris, whose grandfather cleaned the building as part of his business. Her father would come too.
Harris experienced a learning curve returning to Knoxville in 2020, which has seen tremendous growth in and around its core since her departure in 2013.
This project is critical as housing becomes harder to find and downtown expands north, Harris said, citing the Emory Place redevelopment as an example.
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“In seven years, just the boom that happened was incredible,” she said. “I immediately said, ‘I love this place.’ This is an amazing place – I love the building, I love the sign. Everything about it just screamed, ‘This is an amazing opportunity.'”
Units for more than just entrepreneurs
If Harris had his way, the building and its old-school office furniture might survive in some ways. But the building at 200 W. Fifth Ave. was built in the 1950’s and has too many structural challenges to cater for any other use whatsoever – let alone asbestos.
Bluedog has not yet determined how many housing units the project could house, although the total number of planned housing units is approximately 135.
“I think we need to review everyone’s usage to make sure it’s compliant with the code,” Harris said of the live work units. “We really want to help Knoxville become more of a pedestrian city, a bike-friendly city — not as dependent on vehicles for transportation.”
Harris said yoga teachers, visual artists, music teachers and bakers are examples of entrepreneurs who could fit into this unique community.
“You’re going to have that street presence,” she said.
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Without renderings, it’s difficult to visualize the development, but Harris said the design will match the neighborhood’s “historic vibe.”
The residential/work units will include a street-side retail portion. There are also more traditional studio to two bedroom layouts priced in line with market prices.
“It’s very necessary,” Harris said. “It fills the demand that Knoxville sees. You are moving here, you want to be able to find an apartment to live in. You work downtown, you want to be connected to everything. This is a great opportunity.”
Knoxville’s rental market is hot. The average rent in May across Knoxville rose 24% from the same time last year. Downtown has an amazing 99.59% occupancy rate, and the average rent of $1,429 was the fourth highest of any neighborhood at the time.
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Minimal amenities but parking is a plus
Communal facilities aren’t finished yet, but Bluedog is considering a small fitness center, shared workspaces, and a kitchen area.
A rooftop terrace for residents is a possibility, and around 50 above-ground parking spaces are included in project plans. Parking spaces would be provided on the south side of the property within the U-shaped development.
Harris said the property is already designated for this type of development.
“Knoxville is seeing tremendous growth,” she said. “You have all these new, fresh people moving into the area.”
“Tennessee is an amazing state. Knoxville is a great city. So I look forward to being part of that growth.”