Nearly eight years after more than half the 700 block of Market Street in downtown Chattanooga was bought with the aim of reviving the site, the buildings sit empty, deteriorating and graffiti-covered.
“I think it’s horrible,” said Sana Dabit, manager of Giorgio Men’s Warehouse near Seventh and Market streets. “It’s like a ghost town.”
Betty Koeninger, who works at Barbara’s Hallmark store in the 800 block of Market, called the appearance of the buildings “disgraceful.”
“When you walk down there, it doesn’t even smell nice,” she said.
A developer who proposed new life for the block with a high-rise project two years ago said Thursday that demolition is to start next month, though the timeline has slipped before.
Trey Stanley of Trafalgar Development Corp. said asbestos abatement is ongoing and to be finished this week. Then, he said, he will get permits to take down the half dozen or so buildings on the east side of Market where he plans to put up a $16 million mixed-use structure holding 58 condominiums.
However, Mr. Stanley’s plans originally were unveiled in January 2006 amid fanfare by public and private officials that the struggling block finally would be revived. At that time, he said, plans were to start construction in the spring of 2006 with the project opening in summer 2007.
His company purchased the site from RiverCity Co., the private, nonprofit downtown redevelopment group that had bought it in late 2000.
While the riverfront flourished and the Southside was undergoing a renaissance, the central business district was flagging. RiverCity officials had envisioned they were setting the stage for the resurgence of the block, which had seen a string of businesses come and go.
But redevelopment proved harder than anticipated, and the buildings sat largely barren for years.
Paul Brock, who became RiverCity’s president in late 2004, said if the project was an easy one, it would have been done a long time ago.
“There are a lot of challenges to it,” he said. “It has taken a while to get the pieces together.”
Mr. Stanley originally proposed an eight-story building featuring 50 one- and two-story apartments. But, he said, that plan was not financially viable.
He then turned his attention to condominiums. Last August, Mr. Stanley and the Chattanooga Housing Authority announced a deal in which the authority would become an equity partner in the project called Mayfair on Market.
At that time, Mr. Stanley said demolition would start within weeks.
Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell -- The 700 block of Market Street.
However, over the months, the buildings have continued to sit vacant.
In recent weeks, vandals have marked the storefronts with graffiti.
Richard Glover, whose father owns Fischer Evans Jewelers on the 800 block nearby, said they are saddened by the way the buildings appear.
“We deplore the vandalism,” he said.
Ms. Dabit of Giorgio’s, one of the few remaining businesses on that side of the 700 block, said the structures are an eyesore.
“Give me a vacant lot. It’s much more attractive,” she said.
Mr. Stanley said his cure for the graffiti problem is to remove the structures and put up a nine-story building with new commercial space on the ground floor, 180 parking spaces on three levels and then condos designed to sell for prices between $160,000 and $330,000.
Mr. Brock said he will be delighted to see the project get under way.
“It will provide a major boost of confidence for the center of our city,” he said.
If the work does not move ahead for whatever reason, RiverCity will work with Mr. Stanley, he said.
“We’re doing our level best to move the project forward,” Mr. Brock said.
MAYFAIR ON MARKET TIMELINE
* October 2000 — RiverCity Co. agrees to buy about half of the east side of the 700 block of Market Street for redevelopment.
* January 2006 — Developer Trey Stanley buys the vacant property with the aim of tearing down the century-old structures and putting up mixed-use space including apartments.
* June 2006 — Mr. Stanley says he may consider building condominiums rather than apartments.
* August 2007 — Mr. Stanley and the Chattanooga Housing Authority join to move the project ahead. He says demolition could start within weeks.
* February 2008 — Developer says demolition is to start next month.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...