Face changing

Face changing

July 4th, 2010 by Ellis Smith in Businesstopstory

Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Officials from Hamilton County and the Chamber of Commerce are planning on updating the Business Development Center on the North Shore to make it more energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

A $6 million renovation will proceed within 30 to 60 days at the Business Development Center on the North Shore, though some historic preservation groups have said the building's facade should be left untouched, planners say.

The structure, which was built in 1926 as a furniture warehouse for the Sterchi Brothers and Fowler, was renovated and redesigned in 1940 with its now-iconic rounded corners and art deco glass block window design.

Unfortunately, the historic glass block stops light from entering the building instead of air, forcing the building operators to spend more on climate control than on helping small businesses become successful, said Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce spokesman J.Ed Marston.

"We have seen our costs related to utilities to go up so dramatically that it has impinged on the level of service we were allowed to do," he said. "Our yearly utility bill is six figures."

But groups opposing the renovation said at least the glass facade should be preserved for future generations.

"If you remove the glass block, you change the building's character," said Ann Gray, former executive director for Cornerstones, a non-profit historic preservation society in Chattanooga.

Architect Pat Neuhoff said he recognizes the historic nature of the building, and the firm's plans call for preserving some of the glass block, while replacing the majority of the block with more transparent and energy efficient windows that should let light in but not outside air.

For Cheryl Millsaps, vice president at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the renovation will be about correcting the building's "inherent issues" and allowing it "another 25 years of life," instead of letting it fall into disuse.

Some of the major issues to be corrected include antiquated or non-existent air conditioning in some areas, poor wiring, a leaky roof and windows that block out light while letting air in, she said.

Because replacing the roof and windows will open the building up to the elements, tenants will be shuffled around during the construction to allow the building to remain open during the entire renovation.

"By mid-July we hope to have approval and then the county will proceed to put the notifications out and put out a request for proposals," Ms. Millsaps said. "August is when construction would get started, and barring unforeseen consequences, best case scenario, nine months to completion."

Hamilton County officially owns the building, which it leases to the Chamber of Commerce for $1 per year to provide space and assistance to small businesses in the area.

Todd Leamon, the county engineer, said planners were as sensitive as possible to the building's history, but said the structure needs a facelift if it is to continue to function.