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An 85-year-old church building on Chattanooga's North Shore was demolished last week to make room for a new apartment complex overlooking the Tennessee River.
Commercial real estate broker Kevin Boehm and a partner bought the old Forrest Avenue United Methodist Church in 2011 after the 126-year-old congregation was shut down because of dwindling membership in 2010.
He's planning to build a three-story brick apartment building on top of the hill at 120 Forest Ave. The complex will include 30 high-end one, two and three-bedroom apartments, Boehm said, and should be finished by summer 2014.
"We want to make sure we match the feel of the neighborhood," he said. "We don't want it to stand out. I grew up in North Chattanooga, so I want to make sure it really blends in and fits."
Boehm said he initially considered renovating and reworking the old brick church instead of demolishing it, but quickly realized that the building was too far gone.
"We tried to retrofit the structure that was there, but it just didn't work," he said. "The building was in terrible shape. The roof was leaking, and there were structural issues in the foundation."
Neighbors said the empty building attracted squatters and was turning into an eyesore.
"We've had trouble with homeless people living there," said Kameron Dixon, who lives across the street. "It wasn't ever used, except for when the cops would drive through there. The fact that it's getting torn down -- it will be nice to have new apartments there."
Boehm paid $750,000 to buy the church and the land, and he expects to spend around $5 million on the new apartments, dubbed "Forest on Frazier."
The apartments will each include a balcony, hardwood floors, granite countertops and parking spaces, he added. Units will range between 1,100 and 1,900 square feet. He thinks the apartment building's location and views will keep it full in a market with more than 150 new units in the pipeline.
"I think the location will keep it full forever," he said. "I'm not worried about this particular project, but I do think the market could get saturated in the next couple years if people continue to build."
At least three other new apartment complexes will open on the North Shore in the next year. Developer John Wise is adding 42 apartments at The Hamilton Lofts on North Market Street, 27 units on Cherokee Boulevard and another 36-unit building at 110 Tremont St.
Just down the street at Frazier Place, property manager Bob McKenzie has watched his rents climb from $975 for a two-bedroom in 2005 to $1,410 for a two-bedroom today.
"There's just a market for downtown rental housing," he said. "Although the North Shore isn't downtown, it's close enough."
He said it's hard to tell if developers are overbuilding.
"Like anything in real estate, you find out that the market is saturated six months after the market is saturated," he said.
Still, Mike Hubble, superintendent for the Chattanooga District of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church, said he's glad to see a quality development moving onto the lot.
"If our United Methodist church can't be there, then we certainly are in favor of development that helps improve the community," he said.
Most of the money from the sale of the church is required to be used solely to fund urban ministries, he added. Some of that money has been used to keep the old congregation's Mustard Tree Ministries up and running even after the church closed its doors. The group gives out about 200 free lunches in Miller Park every Wednesday.
Area resident David Pierce stopped his pickup truck on the side of the road to watch a bulldozer knock down the church's bell tower last week. The 65-year-old is not thrilled with the idea of yet another new apartment building rising on the North Shore.
"I just hate to see old churches being torn down," he said. "It'll look fine once I get used to it; I just hate to see them tear down churches that have been here for years."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at email@example.com or 423-757-6525.