Big plans: How more than $2 billion in real estate investment will change the way you see Chattanooga


August 1st, 2019by Mike Parein EDGE


Commercial real estate broker David DeVaney says he's never seen so many big dreams etched on Chattanooga's drawing board in his 30 years in the business.

"They see the growth potential in Chattanooga," says DeVaney about the people behind the roughly half dozen so-called mega-developments which are in various stages in the area.

From Chattanooga's riverfront to South Broad Street to East Ridge to Ooltewah, projects valued at several hundred million dollars and more are planned or underway.

Both in-town and out-of-the-city developers are behind the massive investments. They range from mostly residential to a mix of housing and light commercial to including heavy industry.

DeVaney says he's seeing more developers from such go-go cities as Nashville, Atlanta and Charlotte who are seeing opportunities in the Chattanooga area.

"The cost of doing a project is less than in Nashville — land costs alone," he says. "It's exciting for Chattanooga."

Jimmy White, a Chattanooga real estate developer who purchased the former Alstom factory site along Riverfront Parkway with hotelier Hiren Desai for $30 million in 2018, says that the proposed redevelopment could bring $2 billion to $3 billion in investments.

Already, there are several hundred new jobs at the 112-acre tract, he says, noting that Micronics and Team Title have moved into the location. That number of added jobs are in various stages of negotiation with other companies, the developer says. 

"We've been amazed with the demand," White says. "We're showing the property a half dozen times a week, maybe more."

Interest is coming from not only local businesses but parties outside the city and state along with some international groups, he says.

White says there's room for his and Desai's big project and others proposed in the Chattanooga area.


“We've been amazed with the demand. We're showing the property a half dozen times a week, maybe more.”
 Chattanooga developer Jimmy White about the former Alstom site


"We're an appealing option," he says about the city.

One adjoining project that's blossomed over the past six years is at Cameron Harbor, where a Nashville developer along with a Chattanooga businessman are creating a new neighborhood.

Aaron White, a principal in Evergreen Real Estate of Nashville, along with developer Eugene "Buck" Schimpf of Chattanooga, have helped fashion a mixed-use area complete with apartments, townhomes, restaurants, and a hotel all on a former vacant industrial site.

White's company is putting up 180 more apartments now. While the latest phase comes to about $50 million, the entire project could reach upwards of $200 million when complete, says White, no relation to Jimmy White.

In East Ridge, the owner of the Chattanooga Red Wolves professional soccer team recently broke ground on a 5,500-seat facility with plans for an array of restaurants, apartments, hotels, condominiums and stores.

Bob Martino, the owner of Star Community Builders in Park City, Utah, and owner of the USL One soccer team, says he plans to eventually build or attract up to $125 million of entertainment, housing and hotel projects on the roughly 100 acres he bought along Interstate 75 and Interstate 24.

Martino's plan includes 400 apartment and condominium units, 375 hotel rooms, 475,000 square feet of commercial space and a network of walking and nature trails that could connect under I-75 with Camp Jordan on the other side of the freeway.

"The objective is to create an area that thrives when there are soccer games, but also is very attractive on other days to walk in a pedestrian-friendly area with options for lunch or dinner or other recreation opportunities," Martino says.

The project, as proposed, will be the biggest investment ever in East Ridge and is slated to create up to 1,200 jobs and generate up to $7 million of additional tax revenue. It is located within the border zone in East Ridge, which allows the city to recapture the growth in sales tax collections within the zone and then plow those funds back into repaying investments in the area, including the planned $6 million stadium.

Meanwhile, the owners of a huge foundry tract off South Broad Street could hold a new Chattanooga Lookouts home and housing and retail space, and they're seeking a master developer to oversee future work.

The recently completed South Broad District Plan has suggested a multi-use sports and entertainment facility for the parcel that once held U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry. The plan foresees an array of new housing along with commercial and retail space, upgraded parks, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, including the new minor league ballpark and entertainment facility to serve as a catalyst for development.

Mike Mallen of owner Perimeter Properties says development in the South Broad District and along the riverfront would open up a new pipeline of revenue to the city.

"That's a double victory," he says.

Mallen says a new sports and entertainment facility could serve as "an iconic gateway feature" for the site as motorists on I-24 come into Chattanooga.

Chattanooga developer John "Thunder" Thornton recently finalized the purchase of more than 200 acres in Lupton City on the Tennessee River, where developers of the Riverton mixed-use community have drawn up plans for some 400 homes around a village of neighborhood restaurants, stores and medical offices.

Although the new owners are still studying the site and developing their plans, Thornton estimates the project should bring $300 million of investment as it is built out over the next five years or so.

"To have 200 acres so close to downtown Chattanooga along the Tennessee River looking across the river at forests and the beautiful Lookout Mountain in the background makes this a spectacular piece of property," Thornton said.

The site has 3,500 feet along the river just upstream from the Champions Tennis Club near the abandoned Lupton mill site where Dixie Yarns and later R.L. Stowe once operated a thread mill. The property, which includes the nine-hole Lupton City golf course, is the biggest privately owned undeveloped site on the river within Chattanooga's city limits.

In the Ooltewah area, more restaurants and offices are expanding to the Cambridge Square development, and the residential piece of the project is well underway.

The Cambridge Square commercial district off Highway 64 has grown to 10 buildings and 27 tenants in the past few years, said Jim Cheney, Cambridge Square marketing and leasing director. With 11 homes out of the ground and roughly 30 more planned this year, the 130-acre development is aimed at becoming a new kind of "downtown" for the Ooltewah area, he says.

Cheney says the development is one of the first of its kind in the Hamilton County area, which is zoned for 320 homes next to the commercial side. The neighborhood is designed to be pedestrian-friendly with the commercial square being the number one amenity for residents. That amenity comes at a price tag with homes starting in the low $400,000s and ranging to over $1 million.

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