Jack’s Alley, a neon-lit entertainment and business center, provides a different atmosphere than a decade ago when its downtown Chattanooga buildings were falling apart, its developers say.
“We didn’t start with an alley idea,” said Chris Crimmins, one of the developers of Jack’s Alley. “It came about because of a collapsed building. We cleared the debris and I thought, ‘Gosh, this seems like an alley in New Orleans.’”
Mr. Crimmins and Bill Sudderth, of Chattanooga Land Co., said they saved what has become Jack’s Alley on the 400 block of Market and Broad streets from demolition about 11 years ago. A year later, what has become a downtown landmark opened.
The renovation is now home to Taco Mac, Panera, Sticky Fingers, Backstreet Betty’s and the Big Chill, all on the ground floor. Second-floor tenants include Derryberry Public Relations; Neathawk, Dubuque & Packett; Southern Group; and Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson.
Robin Derryberry, owner of the public relations firm, said she moved her agency to the Alley in 2003 because of its central location.
Staff Photos by Dan Henry -- Barrot Rendleman, front left, and T.J. Greever walk with friends Monday past Jack’s Alley.
“As a public relations professional, you want to be in the middle of everything,” she said. “You can’t get more in the middle than in Jack’s Alley.”
From the 1880s to late 1900s the block housed such tenants as Jack’s Army Store, Embrey and Talbott coffee roasters, Crisman Hardware, and Emma and Brown’s Cadillac Club, said Mrs. Derryberry.
Mr. Sudderth, 62, said that in his childhood Jack’s Army Store was a popular place to buy surplus World War II and Korean War items.
“If you had any money that’s where you went,” he said.
Mr. Crimmins, 45, said that when he was younger, prior to the advent of Old Navy, Jack’s Army Store was a large purveyor of khakis.
But the army store closed in the 1980s, they said, and the pre-Jack’s Alley buildings sat vacant and decaying until 1997.
Chattanooga Land Co. had to convince former City Judge Walter Williams to issue a stay on the demolition, Mr. Crimmins said. A tree had grown into one building, knocking the wall down. But the potential was great, he said, because the 400 block was the last block from the Tennessee Aquarium to the start of the central business district to be renovated.
The company bought four buildings in the block, but couldn’t save a one-story structure on Broad Street, Mr. Sudderth said. They removed debris and demolished an unsafe lower level on a building to create the alley that runs from Broad to Market streets. Jack’s Alley opened in June 1998, drawing its name from the former army store.
The block once had an alley that ran parallel to Broad and Market streets, Mr. Sudderth said, but the buildings had been expanded into it. Removing the old alley made the buildings obsolete over time since the buildings no longer had rear entrances.
Creating the modern alley made the property more viable, Mr. Sudderth said, because it encourages foot traffic and gives the restaurants corner fronts for enhanced visibility they otherwise would not have. The alley businesses are in operation virtually 24 hours a day, Mr. Sudderth said, since Panera starts baking in the early morning around the time the Big Chill closes.
“The alley created a mid-block pedestrian connection from Broad to Market streets,” Mr. Crimmins said. “The anniversary of the opening is a tribute to the tenants and how well they’ve done.”