Retail recruitment gears up for Bijou theater spot

Retail recruitment gears up for Bijou theater spot

May 8th, 2009 by Mike Pare in Business

The Bijou theater downtown could hold one big retailer or up to six or seven shops after its space is freed up when a new Carmike moviehouse opens next door later this year, an official says.

"Our No. 1 choice is to do retail," said Cullon Hooks, the retail director at the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group RiverCity Co.

Mr. Hooks said there are already a lot of restaurants on Chattanooga's riverfront and he doesn't want to recruit more competition.

He'd like to fill the Bijou space, 26,000 square feet, with local or regional retailers. If the right tenant comes in, it becomes easier to fill more commercial space slated to be connected with the new Carmike theater directly across Third Street from the Bijou, Mr. Hooks said.

CARTA owns the Bijou space and the parking garage above it at Third and Broad, but the transit system has asked RiverCity to market the site.

RiverCity also is developing the Carmike theater, which is under construction and slated to open in November.

Jeff Pfitzer, RiverCity's acting chief, said estimates are that moviegoers will spend $30 each.

"We want to see the quantity of those patrons grow," he said at the downtown council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Hooks said it's a difficult time to recruit retailers, but he has put together information on the market for prospects, including maps and demographics.

He said, for example, the waterfront area has 350,000 square feet of space that is about 90 percent occupied. By contrast, the central business district has 170,000 square feet of retail that has a 75 percent occupancy rate.

Meanwhile, a survey of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students shows they come downtown about eight times a month, but they don't know what retailers and products exist in the area, Mr. Hooks said.

He said downtown is not ready for a full-fledged grocery store, but that it could support "a scaled-down" store.