In 1900, Eugenia Wiliams was born to a prominent physician who helped introduce Coca-Cola to East Tennessee. In 1998, she left the 10,800-square-foot-home of her childhood, located at 4848 Lyons View Pike, to the university as residence for the UT System president.
On Tuesday, the university announced it would seek approval for the home to be sold. UT Interim President Randy Boyd hopes the sale's proceeds could be used to benefit initiatives centered on increasing student success.
“We hope to find a buyer that will want to not only preserve, but restore the home and property,” Boyd said. “Then UT will use the proceeds to send lower income students to UT by supporting the UT Promise.”
UT President Emeritus Joe Johnson said the university has explored various options for the home to fit Williams' will stipulations, engaging with UT alumni, donors, faculty, staff and students, community members, real estate experts and preservationists.
“While I was hopeful we would be able to utilize the home for UT purposes, I think it’s in the best interest of the university and the community to explore other options that can fully utilize the beauty of the property,” Johnson said. “I appreciate everyone who worked so hard to help us evaluate potential uses for the space over the past two decades.”
A 15-person committee, with UT Knoxville and community leader representatives, was formed in 2018 to look at possible uses for the home. Johnson recommended that the UT System transfer the property to UT Knoxville to explore the possibility of transforming it into a retreat center for student leadership development activities in November. The next month, UT hired McCarty, Holsaple, McCarty to evaluate feasibility.
“While the house is an interesting example of domestic design and construction, it would require extensive and costly repairs to make it habitable again and even more to bring it up to today’s standards of comfort and codes,” MHM said in their report. Options included $9.9. million to demolish and rebuild on the property or over $12 million to renovate, according to a news release.
“While the beauty of the property was unrivaled in the 1940s, sadly the cost to restore the home and property to its original beauty has become much more than we anticipated, and much more than we could responsibly do,” Boyd said. “I have had conversations with Knox Heritage, and we are hopeful for a win-win.”
The university will seek approval from the Board of Trustees in June to file a cy pres court action for the sale of the property. Restriction and stipulations to the future use of the property are being evaluation to ensure they are consistent with Williams' intentions.
The UT Knoxville Promise Dr. David Hitt Williams Endowment will be established from the proceeds of the sale, if approved, to honor Williams' father. UT Promise was announced earlier this year as a “last-dollar scholarship program” to guarantee free tuition and fees for students with family income less than $50,000 and after other aid id given. The first class will be welcomed in the fall of 2020 and will include students previously enrolled when the program begins.