Former St. Barnabas Apartments under renovation for new tenants

Former St. Barnabas Apartments under renovation for new tenants

July 17th, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Contractor Austin DeMaria of DeMaria's Home Improvements and Property Renovations discusses light fixtures with developer Bob McKenzie as they walk through St. Barnabas senior living apartments on Monday. St. Barnabas is undergoing renovations to transition from senior living to apartments for young professionals.

Photo by Allison Love/Times Free Press.

HISTORY OF ST. BARNABAS

• Sept. 16, 1965 - The 87-bed St. Barnabas Nursing Home opens

• 1966 - St. Barnabas Apartments opens adjacent to the nursing home

• 2000 - The nonprofit's board realizes the apartments are losing money and implements a plan to increase revenue by moving its nursing home to a location next to Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation

• July 16, 2007 - The new St. Barnabas Nursing Home opens next to Siskin

• Dec. 6, 2011 - St. Barnabas Apartments announces it's closing

• March 19, 2012 - The last seniors move out of St. Barnabas Apartments

Construction has begun on a downtown, 108-unit apartment complex scheduled to open this fall.

Bob McKenzie is part of the development group that bought St. Barnabas senior apartments after it shut down in May. Since then, the group has worked to convert the assisted and independent living apartments on the corner of Sixth and Pine streets to studio and one bedroom units.

"There's such a demand for downtown rental housing," McKenzie said. "This will certainly fill the gap."

The apartments will rent for between $575 and $850 a month. McKenzie hopes that price point will attract both young professionals and college students.

"It's going to be real appealing to people who want to live downtown and just haven't been able to for one reason or another," he said. "UTC has a real housing issue. Theoretically, if we had been ready three months ago we could have turned this whole building into student housing."

Kim White, head of the downtown development group River City Company, expects the units will fill quickly. She said demand for affordable downtown apartments has been high, and she expects that demand won't be fully met by the 108 new living spaces.

"I just wish it was bigger," she said. "More and more young people are working downtown and we're attracting more to the city in general."

But parking and funding issues have held up Chattanooga apartment development. Developers have looked at the Chattanooga Bank building for a 74-unit complex at Eighth and Market streets, but haven't been able to figure out where to park tenants' cars.

Developer John Clark, who also is involved with the St. Barnabas project, spent years trying to build an $11 million Walnut Street apartment complex, but struggled to find funding. He said in late June that he expects the project finally to break ground this month.

Joda Thongnopnua, a 19-year-old strategist at ad firm Area 203 and a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student, said more apartment options can't come soon enough. He lives in Harrison, about a 30-minute drive to his friends, work and school.

"I literally have all my social circles downtown and I work downtown, so I may as well live downtown," he said. "It's really important to me to be downtown entirely, and I feel like I'm half removed from it right now."

McKenzie hopes his building will attract people like Thongnopnua. His group bought the site for $1.4 million and has been renovating kitchens, light fixtures, paint and carpets in hopes of having units ready for tenants as soon as September. Though the interior layout will stay the same as the senior apartments, he expects the renovated units to wow renters with modern features such as stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

"Those apartments are fairly small," he said. "But they're going to be real nice."

Contact Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.