Chattanooga guts St. George Hotel site, tries to save facade

Chattanooga guts St. George Hotel site, tries to save facade

March 7th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

A car passes by the St. George Hotel along Market Street on Monday afternoon. Workers with Pates Hauling and Demolition continued tearing down the rear portion of the vacant hotel on Market Street. Ernest Pate estimated that the section designated for demolition would be down by Thursday.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

A vacant and dilapidated former hotel dating back to 1920, one of downtown Chattanooga's few remaining art deco-style buildings, is partly coming down.

The city is demolishing the rear portion of the St. George Hotel, across Market Street from the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Gary Hilbert, who directs the city's Land Development Office, said the building was condemned late in 2011. He said the four-story structure had been open to the elements so long that it has deteriorated.

"A tree was growing through the bricks," the city official said.

Hilbert said he expects the rear half will be demolished, apparently leaving in place the front part of the former hotel, one of several in the area that had serviced the Choo Choo last century when it was a train terminal.

Craig Driver, owner of St. George Development LLC, said he has been working with Chattanooga historic preservation group Cornerstones and the Lyndhurst Foundation to try to save the building.

"I've been trying to prevent it from getting wiped out," he said.

Driver's company bought the St. George in 2006. He said at the time that he planned to remake the building, vacant for decades, into space for condos and commerce.

He had paid $420,000 for the building and an adjacent parking lot.

Sarah Morgan, the Lyndhurst Foundation's program officer, said the economy turned downward after the building's purchase and Driver, like other developers, ran into trouble.

"Now, we'd all like to see the front stabilized so we don't lose the historic nature of the district," she said.

Potentially, Morgan said, the remainder of the building could be saved and incorporated into a development containing housing and commercial space.

"We're hopeful, and maybe taking the back portion down will make people look at it with fresh eyes," she said.

Morgan said a different owner holds the former Ellis Restaurant building next door, which also has been vacant for many years.

The 1400 block of Market Street where the St. George sits had held a string of unused buildings. But in the past decade several of those were turned into housing, offices and retail space.