AJ Building plans to move to Hotel Americana in downtown Knoxville

Developers have an 18-story task ahead of them if they want to turn the Andrew Johnson Building in downtown Knoxville into Hotel Americana, the latest creative vision from Nashville-based BNA Associates.

BNA has abandoned plans to develop micro-apartment units on the site, which would have been converted into hotel units within five years.

The company is now full steam ahead with plans to create a live music “destination” on Gay Street, which it says will help fill the building’s 143 rooms and direct traffic to a reimagined rooftop bar.

Not one, but two concert halls

The Americana Hotel concept is based on the building’s “early music scene roots,” according to project plans sent to Knox County. Chris Caldwell, the county’s chief financial officer and the mayor’s co-chief of staff, shared a copy of the plans with Knox News.

The second floor lobby, veranda and ballroom would be converted into a restaurant and event venue called The Supper Club. The 13,000 square foot space would include a stage and seating for over 200 guests.

Plans also include two private event rooms, two outdoor terraces and a green room for artists.

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Ivory’s, a rooftop jazz bar, would include an indoor performance venue and an outdoor space with a “garden vibe”.

The AJ Building, built in the 1920s, once hosted a dance band on its roof that could be heard from as far away as Market Square, according to the Knoxville History Project. The building also hosted a crucial country music radio broadcast in 1935, as well as the last performance of Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff in 1943.

Entertainment and games in the first floor lobby

Plans call for the 2,000-square-foot lobby to include lounge seating, a pool table, fireplace, and pantry. The staircase in the middle of the building would be replaced “as originally designed” to allow access to the Supper Club.

The adjoining greenhouse would include a bar in the atrium and an outdoor plaza. This is also where breakfast would be served.

BNA wants to offer 1,800 square feet of space on the south side of the building to a regional business complementary to the hotel brand.

County votes to extend closing date

With its 18 stories, the Andrew Johnson Building creates an imposing view from below.  The latest construction plans call for a rooftop jazz bar to top off the Americana Hotel, which would have 143 rooms on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.

The Knox County commission will vote at its March 28 meeting on whether to extend the county-owned building’s closing date to June 30.

The county accepted BNA’s $6 million offer on the building in 2017.

This 90-day extension would buy time for a handful of government offices to vacate the building.

An email from Caldwell to the commissioners says the BNA is cooperating with the extension, which would prevent the county from paying rent to the company. Caldwell also said the BNA wants the county to reassess its request for payment in lieu of taxes due to the changing view of the site.

“The mayor thought it was a reasonable request, with the changes mentioned, and said we would take it to the county commission,” Caldwell wrote. “We were hoping to bring this in one package, but we haven’t received all the information needed to reevaluate the PILOT.”

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A wide range of room options

Of the 143 rooms planned for the building, 52 would be one-bedroom suites and 91 would be studios. One-bedroom suites would be located along the front of the building.

Each room follows an “extended-stay design,” with kitchenettes, lounge seating, and pull-out sofas. The hotel would also be able to create 26 two-bedroom suites.

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