When builder David J. Smith first saw the old brick building off East Main Street near downtown Chattanooga, he wasn't terribly impressed.
The brick had been painted pea green and all of the glass from the windows had been replaced with blocks.
"The outside didn't look like much," said Mr. Smith, now the general contractor on the project. "It was in a sad state of disrepair."
But Mr. Smith saw the potential inside the nearly 100-year-old building that once housed a hosiery mill and the former Allied Drug Co. Now, the green is gone and windows now line most of the front of the two-story building near the intersection of Gulf and East Main streets.
The structure is part of an area called Cypress Corners that is being redeveloped as a creative arts community. The project anchors the eastern boundaries of the Main Street revitalization.
The 24,000-square-foot building at 1601 Gulf St. is the first of two buildings in Cypress Corners to be renovated. It's owned by sculptor John Henry and architect Thomas Bartoo, who headed the project design.
Cypress Corners is the block bordered by Main, 16th, Gulf and Fillmore streets. The area also is where Mr. Henry has indoor and outdoor studios for making his large-scale public art pieces.
The community sits across from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga between Main Street and the old Montague Park, which Mr. Bartoo hopes will be a big part of the area's redevelopment. He and Mr. Henry have been working extensively with the city to turn part of Montague Park into a mixed-use park that would include a sculpture garden.
"This park is key, not just to the building, but to the entire area," Mr. Bartoo said. "To bring people to an area you've got to have destinations, and the park is a big one."
The second building, at 1200 East Main St., is owned by the Structure Group. That building eventually will have shops that open up to 16th street, Mr. Bartoo said.
Some office space has already been developed, including both Mr. Smith's and Mr. Bartoo's businesses, but the remaining construction will begin later this year, Mr. Smith said.
The cost of renovating the first building - which will be complete this summer - is estimated at more than $3 million, according to Mr. Bartoo.
Several tenants have moved into the 1601 Gulf St. building over the past few months and by July 1, there will be just one vacant space remaining, Mr. Bartoo said. He hopes that 2,000 square-foot space will be leased by a cafe or a restaurant.
The Mill, an 8,000 square-foot event space, opened last summer. Exposed brick and original wood columns were used in the space.
Also in the building are Beautiful by Cristie, a local photographer specializing in children's portraits and Quiddity, an event production business. TubAtomic, a web design firm, will move in over the summer.