St. George owner has plans for condos in former hotel across from Choo Choo

St. George owner has plans for condos in former hotel across from Choo Choo

June 6th, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

A car passes by the St. George Hotel along Market Street in this file photo. An investor has bought the art deco building and has plans to build six condos while preserving the facade.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

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TIMELINE

* 1917 -- St. George opens. It was one of several hotels around a former railroad terminal that's now the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

* 2004 -- Fire damages the rear portion of the vacant hotel, causing it to deteriorate.

* 2006 -- St. George Development LLC buys the site with the intention of putting in condominiums, but the Great Recession hits two years later.

* 2012 -- City takes down rear part of the building for safety reasons

* 2013 -- Marta Alder buys the four-story structure.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

A businesswoman with a background in renovating older buildings in Miami has bought the rundown former St. George Hotel near the Chattanooga Choo Choo with plans to save it and put in condominiums.

"That whole area is the gateway to the Southside," said Marta Alder, who moved to Chattanooga about a year ago.

Alder, who worked in real estate sales in Miami, paid $245,000 for the long-vacant Market Street hotel, part of which was torn down by the city last year because it had deteriorated. She said she's negotiating to buy an adjacent lot that would be used for parking.

"We need the parking," Alder said. "It's critical."

Alder said she sees not just preserving what's left of the St. George but building anew on the property. She foresees six condos in the existing structure and is unsure exactly how much new construction will take place.

First, she said, she plans to fix the roof of the building that dates back to 1917, and then she'll have geotechnical work done to see what's underground supporting the four-story structure.

"We've got to find out what's there," she said, adding there's no way to put a

firm estimate to the cost of redeveloping the site until that's completed.

Ann Gray, executive director of the Chattanooga historic preservation group Cornerstones, cheered the deal. The building, one of the few remaining art deco-style structures remaining downtown, is on the group's endangered list.

Gray said a refurbished St. George would be "a wonderful addition" to the Southside.

Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., said the purchase appears well timed with the housing market picking up.

"There's definitely a need for housing and all sorts of housing," she said.

Seller Craig Driver, owner of St. George Development LLC, said he had intended to put condos in the building he bought in 2006. But the Great Recession hit and the project was put on hold.

"I was having a hard time making the numbers work," said Driver, whose company had purchased the site and adjacent lot for $420,000.

He said Alder and two other groups stepped up as potential buyers.

"Marta was the right fit," Driver said, adding that she intends to keep the integrity of the original structure facing Market Street.

Alder said she's looking for an investor team to help finance the St. George project.

She has talked with Chattanooga architect Thomas Johnson, who earlier this year bought an old, vacant building just two doors down from the St. George. Johnson already has fixed the roof of the former J.M. Sanders Jewelry Co. building and begun refurbishing the inside with the hope of attracting retailers to the 5,000-square-foot space. Between the two buildings sits the former Ellis Restaurant, which also has been vacant for many years.

Alder said while she moved to Chattanooga last year to take care of elderly parents, she'd been coming to the city all her life to visit relatives.

"I'm ready to take on a big challenge," she said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.