A Legacy Lost to Blurred Vision?

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - Friends say the McClung buildings lone commercial tenant, custom cabinet-maker Ernie Gross, vows to reopen his business, once he finds a new site.

The future is far less clear for the man who'd been buying up the McClung properties for the past sixteen years.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd has his story.

Mark Saroff is not talking on camera yet, but says he will, soon, and will address what many have called Knoxville's battles with him over blight and what many downtown boosters insist, could-have-should-have-been.

"One of our most significant sets of buildings from our history as a rail-hub for the southeast our warehousing heritage," says Kim Trent from Knox Heritage Inc.

"The possibility for an incredible skyline on I-40 as people through town to see lofts and businesses right there in those buildings, and we've lost that," says Dan Tiller from KCDC.

A century plus-legacy in cinders. A decade's promises in shambles.

"It's a really sad day, Mark Saroff was very dedicated to this project," says Knox County Commissioner and friend Greg 'Lumpy' Lambert.

"He had a vision of what he wanted to see happen," says friend and Knoxville City Councilman Steve Hall.

The man City Councilman Steve Hall, and Commissioner Lumpy Lambert call friend put out his first major vision for McClung nine years ago, 90 lofts and 40,000 square feet of commercial space.

"I wouldn't say he's been a difficult person to deal with, but I wouldn't say he's been an easy person to deal with either," says Dan Tiller, from the Knoxville Community Development Corporation.

KCDC started dealing with Mark Saroff five years ago, on a grander redevelopment plan, more condos and businesses

"They turned his proposal down because he did not submit a financial plan or a timeline," says Tiller.

"I think he tried to get Bicentennial Neighborhood funding, I think he tried to get tax increment financing programs, I think he tried to get direct large grants from the city," explains Kim Trent, from Knox Heritage Inc.

KCDC says Saroff put forward a second plan only after officials had threatened to let other developers bid, or take the buildings through Eminent Domain.

The County Trustees Offices say Saroff still owes six years worth of back taxes on three of the buildings that burned.

Buildings headed for tax sale.

"It's very easy to get behind in your taxes when you've got a lot going out and not a lot going in," says Lambert. "I'd seriously doubt if he had enough insurance to actually cover the mortgages on those buildings."

Saroff's major mortgage holder describes all the buildings burned as uninsured, or underinsured.

Saroff's friends say too many people are kicking him when he's down, simply because he wanted to do things his way.

Preservationists say now, everybody suffers, when the development challenge is a series of vacant lots, rather than a huge complex, full of character.


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