A group of private investors led by former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey has purchased the endangered Fleetwood Coffee Building for $3.5 million, with plans to transform the 45,000-square-foot warehouse into a mixed-use development.
The disused warehouse and manufacturing facility, which lies roughly halfway between City Hall and the Chattanooga Times Free Press on 11th Street, would become the latest domino to fall in a series of moves by public and private entities to breathe new life into the city's Southside.
"There's a lot more interest here than there used to be," said Ramsey, president of Fleetwood Revival LLC.
Ramsey, who is coming off a stint as deputy governor to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, cautioned that it's still early in the process, and noted that there is no firm timeline or signed leases with future tenants, though discussions are ongoing.
"Some of it's going to take considerable amount of work, but we'll try to get it cleaned out and ready to start development plans for it," he said. "We realize we've got an old building and we're going to work our way through it."
The five-story structure hasn't been used since the 1970s, Ramsey said, when it served as a manufacturing facility. Workers brought the coffee beans in through the roof, then worked their way down through every stage of the process before shipping the finished product out through the ground floor. Some of the old machinery remains in the building, he said.
The structure's owners will qualify for federal tax incentives and increased depreciation since the building is in a depressed zone, according to its commercial listing. But thanks to a spate of developments in the area, the 11th Street corridor may not remain depressed for long.
Jamestown properties has steadily stocked Warehouse Row with commercial and retail tenants, as well as popular restaurants that have filled the parking lot there. The city, meanwhile, has built a giant complex farther west that includes a new gym for city workers, a new police station and other city services. A few blocks further down, new construction homes have slowly filled vacant lots next to barbed wire fences.
In fact, the abandoned portion of the Fleetwood warehouse, which today is inhabited only by pigeons, is attached to two other structures that are very much in use, which are home to condos, offices and two restaurants. Ramsey sees the growing number of inhabitants in an area that for years was a virtual ghost town after 5 p.m. as a good sign.
"We'll see how this one works out," he said. "I wouldn't want to speculate on how long it would take."
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