In the next few years the hotel landscape in downtown Chattanooga could look very different.
While some developers are already working to grow the 2,000-room downtown hotel market, others are showing interest in central city land and could add many more rooms and tax dollars to the growing tourism industry, officials say.
In August, the 35-year old Clarion downtown will be reborn as a 186-room Doubletree, following a $20 million renovation which began in 2006, said Bill Mish, general manager of the downtown hotel.
“This is really a complete and utter gut job,” said Mr. Mish. “The studs came down, and the sheet rock came down. This is not just a patch job.”
The Doubletree — revived to a state-of-the art New York chic with a new bar and restaurant and 11,000 square feet of meeting rooms — is leading the way for several other hotel projects.
Staff Photos by Allison Kwesell -- Construction workers with R&W Builders work on framing the first floor of the old Clarion hotel, which is being remodeled to be a Doubletree hotel on Chestnut Street downtown.
Vision Hospitality Group, the Chattanooga development company that oversaw the Clarion makeover and the owner of the Hilton Garden Inn nearby, is also working on a Holiday Inn Express off West M.L. King Boulevard scheduled to open in September with 92 rooms, said Mitch Patel, president of Vision.
In addition, a privately owned boutique hotel will be built on the North Shore, he said.
“(The hotel) will fit in with the North Shore which we think is an eccentric area,” said Mr. Patel. “In my opinion, if there is going to be an independent boutique hoteI we would want to put it in the North Shore area, and I think the time has come with all the other activity happening in the North Shore area.”
Along with Vision Hospitality Group, other developers have shown interest in capitalizing on the downtown renaissance and riverfront attractions, officials said.
In January the owners of Warehouse Row downtown, the Jamestown Real Estate Investment firm, said they could be looking to place a 140- to 180-room hotel in the building.
John Healy, a partner in Sperry Van Ness/Elder Healy Commercial, a company that has been involved in downtown real estate since before the Tennessee Aquarium in 1992, is brokering multiple properties downtown and said he has received a lot of interest from developers looking to build hotels.
“Downtown is of interest,” he said. “We have hotel developers that are actively looking for opportunities downtown.”
Mr. Healy said his firm does not have sites under contract, but there are several deals he is working on now that would include hotel developers.
One site on M.L. King Boulevard has been looked at closely and is well suited for hotel development, Mr. Healy said. Yet, though there has been significant interest in downtown, it can be tricky to nail down a newcomer, he said.
Some of developers’ interest may be attributed to the growing tourism industry — tourists spent about $688.2 million in 2006 in Hamilton County — and the demands of an underserved market, said David Unruh, project director at RiverCity Co., which has fielded over 20 calls from developers in the past few years.
“Any real estate broker with downtown property will tell you that there is a lot of interest from hotel developers in Chattanooga,” he said. “There are not as many rooms as there should be.”
In reaction to interest, Mr. Unruh said RiverCity will put out some requests for proposals for some downtown properties in the near future.
Tourism growth and the animated quality of the downtown experience have drawn the attention of developers, said Steve Genovesi, vice president of sales and marketing at the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“With all the great things happening with tourism in Chattanooga, there is an ever-growing interest from developers and we work closely with them,” he said. “We are not surprised.”
Also, the large populations within 200 miles of Chattanooga that are affected by rising fuel costs could flock to the Scenic City as drive times for vacations shorten and trips get closer to home, said Mr. Healy.
However, while growth in the hotel market may be coming, Mr. Healy said it is important for property owners and developers to find new and unique lodging opportunities.
“We are missing some sort of hotel on the water,” he said. “I would love to see a high-end hotel in Chattanooga that goes for $250 a night in the tourism district.”
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...