(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a two-part series profiling Buzz Goss, another of the developers whose passion for downtown redevelopment has propelled Knoxville’s vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Knoxville developer Buzz Goss says his vision for Marble Alley Lofts began to form in the mid-2000s, spurred by a combination of factors.
“There were not that many more buildings to be rehabbed downtown,” he says of one driver that reflected the significant progress that he and other developers had made in preserving and reusing the city’s historic old buildings.
Another factor was Goss’ desire to design and build a mixed-use community that had the feel of a neighborhood, complete with alleys.
“I wanted to create the type of neighborhood that I want to retire to,” he says, adding, “I always had a vision for a beautiful neighborhood with alleys.”
The result, minus the alleys that he visualized but with a strong sense of a neighborhood, is Marble Alley Lofts, a 248-apartment development just one block off Knoxville’s Gay Street and just a couple of blocks from the historic Old City. Phase 1 is all residential, while Phase 2, still being designed, will include both retail and office space.
“I think of Marble Alley as a district like the Gulch in Nashville,” Goss says. For those who are not familiar with that part of Nashville, it was a blighted former industrial area that is now a trendy residential and office complex with many restaurants and nightlife venues.
The first Marble Alley Lofts residents – young professionals and empty nesters – moved in earlier this year, nearly a decade after Goss first visualized the project and seven years after he secured the land, originally targeted for a jail, in 2009. The process to secure the property involved meeting one-on-one over the course of a year with every County Commissioner to outline his visions and secure support.
In the end, Goss’ tenacity and patient approach garnered a unanimous vote from all 19 Commissioners. Ironically, the approval came right at the height of the economic downturn.
“I twiddled my thumbs for four years,” he says about moving forward to develop Marble Alley Lofts. “It did not come together the way I thought it would. Who knew when we would come out of the recession?”
Goss is truly an entrepreneur, and he employed those skills to survive the downturn.
“Luck got me through the recession,” he says in his typical candid style. “I bought as much distressed property as possible and rented it.”
His patience and perseverance paid-off, both for the project and for its impact on Knoxville.
“I had three groups vying to be a joint venture partner,” Goss says of the project. He selected TDK Company of Murfreesboro.
As far as the impact on the community, he says that the Marble Alley Lofts development has opened new doors.
“At the time we were seeking financing, large out-of-state investors did not believe in Knoxville,” Goss explains, saying they were much more comfortable taking risks in cities like Charlotte and Nashville. Entrepreneurs could draw an analogy with the frequent characterization of this area as a “venture capital flyover” community.
The manner in which Marble Alley Lofts is financed has altered the landscape.
“I’ve opened the door to big institutional investors,” Goss says. That change can only be good news for the community, not to mention the nearly 250 new residential units that will help further attract young professionals to the downtown.