From creating modular wall art to installing glass panes in a staircase, there are still a few finishing touches to add to Vision Hospitality Group's new headquarters on Broad Street.
But the hotel development and management company moved in this week anyway, pulling its 35 corporate employees from an office at Hamilton Place to the company's shiny new four-story building in downtown Chattanooga.
And president and CEO Mitch Patel couldn't be happier.
"This is our patio area," he said, stepping out to a fourth floor balcony dotted with chairs and couches and backdropped by a panorama of Broad Street. "We took advantage of the views we had and instead of having a corner office here that was somebody's, we thought it'd be nice to use it as public space for our employees."
It's just one feature of the new headquarters that Patel hopes will give his company an edge in the quest for top-notch talent. While perks like a full kitchen in the break room are important, the most compelling advantage is location -- Vision Hospitality Group is now right in the heart of downtown.
"We're bringing people in from all over, and not just selling them on our company and our culture, but we have to sell Chattanooga," Patel said. "The lifestyle and the quality of life in Chattanooga. Our associates cherish the opportunity to be able to walk to the places to eat, to take breaks on the Riverwalk. Many are now looking to relocate to downtown to live."
Vision Hospitality owns and operates 31 hotels, employs about 1,000 people and spent $4.5 million to build its new headquarters. But Vision is just one of a growing number of companies in Chattanooga and across the nation that are rediscovering the competitive advantages of downtown corporate headquarters.
In the last year, the Center for Integrative Medicine built a new two-story headquarters on East Main Street and Southern Surgical Arts spent $5 million to build a new three-story headquarters on Broad Street. Before that, Craftworks dished up $11 million to move into a renovated Southside warehouse in 2012. And BlueCross BlueShield opted to stay downtown in 2009.
"You spend eight, 10, 12 hours of your day at work," said Pam Nease, director of business development at Southern Surgical Arts. "We wanted the practice to be in a historic area, and loved the feel of downtown and the Southside. Out by Gunbarrel and the mall, it's a great commercial district, but it's very commercial."
And there's real value in a downtown location that's close to where employees live, economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer found in a 2004 study. Employees who travel about 20 minutes to get to work would need to earn about 19 percent more than non-commuters to be as satisfied with their lives, the study found. At an hour one-way commute, that jumps to 40 percent more.
For Patel, who built Vision Hospitality Group's portfolio from one to 31 hotels -- with another 15 currently under development -- the new headquarters is also a product of the company's rapid growth.
"When you're growing like that, you have to grow your infrastructure," he said. "We've always been good at growing our infrastructure ahead of our growth. I think that's wise, instead of playing catch up all the time."
To that end, while Vision Hospitality is currently only using the top two floors of the four-story building, Patel opted not to lease the second floor, instead building it out for future internal growth. The first floor will be leased to three tenants, including a retailer and a sandwich shop, Penn Station East Coast Subs.
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