KNOXVILLE – The University of Tennessee announced today plans to seek approval to sell the Eugenia Williams home.
“For the past 20 years, we have spent countless hours exploring options for the Eugenia Williams home that would fit within the stipulations of the will, engaging multiple stakeholders, including UT alumni, donors, faculty, staff and students; community members; real estate experts; and preservationists in discussions about how to utilize the unique property,” UT President Emeritus Joe Johnson said. “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. I appreciate everyone who worked so hard to help us evaluate potential uses for the space over the past two decades.”
In 2018, UT commissioned a 15-person committee with representatives from UT Knoxville as well as community leaders to look at possible uses for the property. In November, Johnson announced a recommendation that the UT System transfer the property to UT Knoxville and explore the possibility of transforming it into a retreat center and community showpiece for student leadership development activities. In December, the University hired Knoxville-based McCarty, Holsaple, McCarty (MHM) to evaluate the current home and determine the feasibility and cost for the renovation.
After reviewing the current state of the home, MHM estimated three options for developing the retreat center, ranging from $9.9 million to demolish the home and build a new retreat center to more than $12 million to renovate the home, which exceeded the University’s initial projections. According to the report, “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.”
After reviewing the report, UT Interim President Randy Boyd made the decision to seek approval to sell the property and use the proceeds of the sale to benefit initiatives centered on increasing student success.
“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 converstations with Knox Heritage, and we are hopeful for a win-win. We hope to find a buyer that will want to not only preserve, but restore the home and property. Then UT will use the proceeds to send lower income students to UT by supporting the UT Promise.”
In June, the University will seek approval from the Board of Trustees to file a cy pres court action to permit the sale of the property. The University is evaluating what restrictions and stipulations will apply to the future use of the property to be consistent with Williams’ intentions.
If approved, proceeds from the sale will be directed to establish the UT Knoxville Promise Dr. David Hitt Williams Endowment, in honor of Williams’ father. UT Promise is a last-dollar scholarship program that will guarantee free tuition and fees for students with a family household income of under $50,000 and after other financial aid is received (such as Pell Grants, HOPE Scholarship, or other institutional scholarships). UT Promise will welcome its first class in the fall of 2020, and the scholarship program will include those students who were previously enrolled in college when the program begins in 2020.
Background on Eugenia Williams
Eugenia Williams was born in January 1900 to a prominent physician, who was one of the original investors who introduced Coca-Cola to East Tennessee. She left the 10,800-square-foot home, located at 4848 Lyons View Pike, to the University of Tennessee after her death in 1998 to be used as a residence for the UT System president.