* 85,000 square foot Bass Pro Shop scheduled to open this summer
* Work is beginning on new Zaxby’s restaurant in Jordon Crossing
* Camp Jordan Road is being widened (opening in April) and a new exit road developed
* Life Care Centers of America is building a $24.8 million senior center off of Fincher Avenue
* Wolftever Development is recruiting more retailers for new Jordan Crossing center
This is supposed to be East Ridge's year — the finale to the first, grueling stretch of the long race toward Exit 1 recovery, which officialy starts this summer when Bass Pro Shops is expected to open after two long years of construction and dirt work.
Going back to 2012, city officials and developers with Wolftever Development have been working around the clock to realize the dream of building a major commercial and retail center in East Ridge at one of the main southern entrances into the Volunteer State.
It started when state economic officials offered a lucrative tax incentive package for certain parts of Tennessee, which lie on a border with a neighboring state, and which have an interstate and which could come up with a major retail project.
The Border Region Retail Tourism Development District allows municipalities to reap monster tax breaks and reimbursements (collecting up to 75 percent of certain state sales tax gains) in the case that a mega retailer builds inside Tennessee, instead of going across the border into a neighboring state.
For East Ridge, check, check and check.
The mega retailer became Bass Pro Shops, which was lured to East Ridge by Wolftever principals John Healy, Matt Wood and Ethan Wood. Currently on property acquired from the city of East Ridge near Camp Jordan, Wolftever Development is building an 85,000-square-foot Bass Pro Shops, the future anchor for larger development called Jordan Crossing.
It is scheduled to open by June 30.
And city officials believe it will be the key to their city's renaissance.
Throughout the process of selling land, striking deals and settling on tax breaks with Wolftever Development, East Ridge officials pitched the border region as a "transformative" development for their city — and for Exit 1, which at one time boasted more hotel rooms than any other interstate 75 exit in America.
After featuring more than 1,800 hotel rooms and a variety of restaurant and retail chains a generation ago, Exit 1 in East Ridge has lost much of its luster and appeal to travelers as hotels have aged or been demolished and flea markets have replaced major grocery and furniture retailers in the area.
But Bass Pro Shops, one of the premier tourism-oriented retailers, is projected to help reverse the Exit 1 downturn. Indeed, nearby hotels and properties are already being refurbished and Wolftever is negotiating to draw even more retailers on the 27 acres that surround the new 85,000-square-foot store sporting goods outlet.
Already, a Zaxby's has committed to opening in the Jordan Crossing development, and builders have mapped out room for at least one more large retail or commercial tenant.
Expect to see other major tenant announcements throughout this year.
Developers estimate the total Jordan Crossing project will bring more than $100 million of retail investment. City offiials say without the tax incentives offered by the border region district legislation, it would have been impossible to lure a tenant like Bass Pro Shops and kickstart the project.
Newly-improved and widened Camp Jordan Parkway is scheduled to open this spring, ahead of Bass Pro Shops opening, and a major Interstate 75 and Ringgold Road interchange improvement is also on the way.
Also, East Ridge recently redrew the lines of its border region to include the Ringgold Road corridor from Camp Jordan back to Missionary Ridge, which will result in hearty tax incentives for any developer who builds along the city's main thoroughfare.
A new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market opened in the region last year, and now with major reimbursement opportunities available, more commercial and retail tenants are expected to come to Ringgold Road, even as early as this year.
Life Care Centers of America, which opened one of its first nursing homes in East Ridge in 1975, is building a new $24.8 million complex on the other side of Exit 1 from the new Bass Pro Shop. The 108-room, 80,0000-square-foot facility is replacing the former Life Care Center in East Ridge which closed last spring.
With a newly-increased tax base, a major new retail development at Exit 1 and its first big city-wide renaissance hurdle cleared this year, East Ridge in 2016 is poised to make its first significant leap toward challenging other parts of the greater-Chattanooga area — including the Hamilton Place and Gunbarrel Road hub — for tourists and shoppers.
"We're playing a small part in what, we hope, is the resurgence of East Ridge," says John Healy, a partner at Wolftever Development. "This [border region] legislation has the potential to completely change that city."