Staying on The Block: Revamped Chattanooga Visitors Center to resemble Apple store

Staying on The Block: Revamped Chattanooga Visitors Center to resemble Apple store

November 16th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

The CARTA Shuttle Park on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga is located near the Tennessee Aquarium, where the Bijou Theater was located. The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau is moving into offices on the 18th floor of the SunTrust Building, while also moving the Visitors Center to the ground floor of the former Bijou Theater building.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

While Chattanooga's Visitors Center is staying in The Block, officials will create new space at CARTA's riverfront garage that will "look like an Apple store," an official said.

Plans are to build the new Visitors Center in a part of the breezeway where CARTA's electric shuttles pick up and drop off passengers, said Bob Doak, who heads the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It will be chic, sleek, very modern," said Doak about the new space that will have floor-to-ceiling glass walls. He said plans are for the 3,000-square-foot center to hold high-definition TV monitors.

"We plan to do higher tech-looking brochure racks," Doak said.

The visitors center already operates on the ground floor of the garage on the Broad Street side in space that had at one time housed the Bijou Theatre lobby.

Doak said the bureau, CARTA and new tenants moving into The Block want the Visitors Center to remain.

The Visitors Center was asked to shift sites because of the redevelopment of the old movie theater into new retail locations coupled with indoor and outdoor climbing walls.

Local outdoors retailer Rock/Creek and a new climbing business, High Point Climbing, will join with downtown redevelopment group River City Co. in the $4 million project to redo the old Bijou at Third and Broad streets.

CARTA Executive Director Tom Dugan said plans are to build the new space about 30 feet out from the breezeway's south wall. CARTA's 71/2-foot-wide electric buses will have another 30 to 35 feet of space with which to operate, he said.

"There is plenty of room," Dugan said. "We feel comfortable it can be done."

Also, the bureau will reopen the garage's restrooms off the breezeway, which were closed earlier because of panhandlers.

"We'll do everything in our power to keep panhandlers away," said Doak. "It's a high-impact tourist zone."

Doak said the cost of building the new space will be from $350,000 to $400,000. He said the funds could come from a short-term loan.

But, Doak said, the new center should save money because it's smaller than the 4,400 square feet in which the Visitors Center now operates.

"We'll have a quick pay back on this," he said.

Officials are targeting for the new space to open by Memorial Day of next year.