With two moves, Chattanooga's chief tourism and convention recruiting group projects it will boost foot traffic to its visitors center, help it sell the city and save money.
The Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has started work on a new easy-access visitors center on Broad Street, and it will shift offices to the SunTrust Office Tower's top floor at Eighth and Market.
Traffic to the visitors center is expected to jump as much as 55 percent, and the shifts will save about $100,000 in utility and other costs, said Bob Doak, the CVB's chief executive.
Currently, the visitors center and CVB offices are located in space next to the Tennessee Aquarium. That space will be freed up to house the Chattanooga History Center.
Doak said scenic views from the SunTrust's 18th floor will help market the city as the CVB meets with tourism and convention planners.
"We host a lot of meetings with clients or partners," he said.
David DeVaney of NAI Charter Real Estate Co., said the building's top floor "has the best view in town from all four corners."
The CVB wasn't interested in the building at first because its officials wondered if the site might be "too nice," said DeVaney, who with Jeff Jennings represented the building's manager, The Simpson Organization.
But, DeVaney said, Doak checked out the space and determined the CVB could sell Chattanooga to groups without ever having to leave its offices. DeVaney said the owner is putting in about $350,000 to redo the floor.
Jim Bennett, senior vice president of The Simpson Organization, said it has a 10-year lease with the CVB for the SunTrust space, which at one time held board and dining rooms.
"It's going to be a complete renovation of that floor," he said, adding plans are to put the CVB's name in the front of the building at pedestrian level.
Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group RiverCity Co., said it's good for the central business district to have the CVB's offices.
She said that having offices in the more tourist-driven riverfront area isn't the highest and best use of space.
FORMER BIJOU SITE
Meanwhile, construction has started on the new visitors center on the ground floor of the former Bijou Theatre building in the 200 block of Broad.
The 5,000-square-foot area is 13,500 square feet smaller than the current location adjacent to the aquarium. Also, the CVB's office space will shrink from 7,400 square feet to 6,500 square feet with the move, Doak said.
"Everything from rent to utility costs to service contracts, we'll be able to save," he said. The CVB chief said "it's really a rarity that you can move, split up an operation and still save money."
Doak said if all goes well, the transition will be complete by Nov. 1 and the CVB will say good-bye to its 13-year home.
Still, he said a lot is left to be done on the $125,000 visitors center project.
Walls recently went up and were painted, electricity is being wired and plans are being finalized for a TV monitor wall and a mural that will depict Chattanooga's downtown tourism industry.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 225,000: Approximate number of visitors to the current visitors center each year
* 350,000: Projected number of annual visitors to the new visitors center
* $125,000: Amount spent on new visitors center project
* $100,000: Estimated amount the CVB will save each year as a result of moving the visitors center and its offices
Source: Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Bijou marquee will also be transformed, though Doak said he is not yet sure what it will say.
Another addition will include a television screen in the area formerly used as a ticket window that will face Broad Street and showcase advertisements for attractions within the city as well as promotional videos for the visitors center itself.
"We're going to be using the space, we think, more efficiently," he said. "It's going to have a much cleaner, crisper, current feel."
About 20,000-square-feet within the Bijou building has not yet been leased.
White, whose group is marketing the space for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority, said it might stay that way "for awhile." She said whatever business goes into the building should complement the visitors center.
With the center being in the heart of downtown and its doors just steps from the electric shuttle drop-off, Doak said he expects to see foot traffic increase from 225,000 people annually to 350,000. He also hopes more locals will utilize the center's services.
"Chattanoogans don't come to our visitors center," he said. "But it will be such a different location, we believe there will be more interest."
Doak has an 18-month lease on the property, but said he plans for it to become the visitors center's permanent home.
"It's important that we're reanimating a space," he said. "What's been shuttered now will be alive again."