Get our Insider's Guide to Downtown Knoxville delivered straight to your inbox. We promise to send you only the good stuff.

Hope Brothers Building

Property Development

Like so many of downtown Knoxville’s structures, the Hope Brothers Building encapsulates a large span of the city’s history. So the fact that it has found new life and purpose more than 125 years after its construction is a testament to the influence that a conscientious redevelopment project can have on the character of the city itself. Today’s edifice is a testament to Knoxville’s past while also embracing the demands of today’s market.



The current five-story building was built in 1897 to replace the previous three-story structure destroyed by the Gay Street Fire. In the ensuing decades, it housed a shoe store, a bank and, from 1929 to 2003, different jewelry stores (including one operated by the building’s eponymous Hope Brothers). Most recently, it was the home of the nightclub/restaurant Sapphire, and since early 2024, now serves double duty as the location for the boutique Hotel Cleo and the upscale French brasseries Lilou.



In May 2021, the Ephant Group, a Knoxville-based hospitality developer, acquired the Hope Brothers Building with an eye on giving downtown a new hotel property. However, Ephant founder and CEO HD Patel was determined to take more than a cookie-cutter approach to the building’s concept. A little more than two years later, that vision came to fruition with the opening of Hotel Cleo.


Representing an investment of more than $12 million, the property is truly a downtown jewel. Occupying the top four floors of the building, Cleo is a five-star residential hotel with a luxury townhouse feel. Each of its 16 rooms is unique — custom-designed and appointed — with features like curated antiques and paintings. The rooms are large and have oversized windows and vintage rugs. Bathrooms offer features like brass fixtures, marble vanities and homemade tiles. And yes, guests also enjoy modern amenities like free WiFi.



Another of those amenities is Lilou, the restaurant and bar that accounts for much of the first floor. Operated by Knoxville restaurateurs Aaron Thompson and Jessica King (the team behind the Brother Wolf bar and Osteria Stella restaurant), Lilou specializes in authentic French cuisine. Guests may also enjoy the restaurant’s curated collection of French wines representing each of the country’s 19 wine-producing regions.


Photo by Inside of Knoxville


“HD had the concept for the hotel and put together a team that included Streetsense on the design side of things. We worked with Ephant on the design of the restaurant,” says Oliver Smith of Oliver Smith Realty & Development Company, Inc. of Knoxville.


“Ephant had a great understanding of the downtown market, and there was definitely an opening for a project of this nature,” Smith continues. “It’s something Knoxville doesn’t have anywhere else. With a metropolitan statistical area approaching a million people, there was a demand for this type of product.”


Smith describes the renovation of the Hope Brothers Building as one that took the structure down to its bare bones and proceeded with a complete redesign. This included such painstaking efforts as removing the original flooring materials, refinishing them and then reinstalling them.



“This was built to be a legacy property,” Smith says. “It’s not going to go in and out of fashion. We spent a lot of time helping to brand this property. We’ve tried to give Knoxville something that's special.”


Oliver Smith Realty & Development has more than an 80-year history in commercial development and brokerage in Knoxville. Legacy projects include two major shopping malls, while recent/current projects include Lilou, downtown’s Tailor Lofts and the Dempster Building, which is at the intersection of Central and Broadway.


The Ephant Group specializes in the development of hospitality properties all over the country as well as hotel branding and property management. Its recent focus has been on helping to maximize downtown Knoxville’s potential.



Learn more about other recent projects contributing to the growth of Downtown Knoxville.