An M.L. King Boulevard icon, closed for months, is getting a shot at a second life with the help of a local contractor.
Big Ben's Bar-Be-Cue, a staple for decades at the corner of M.L. King and Foster Street, is undergoing interior demolition to make way for what Joe Sliger hopes will be a new restaurant in the downtown area.
"We're basically going to gut it to a shell," said Mr. Sliger, who works with Eastman Construction Co. "We're going to put on a new roof, take out all the walls, install a basic electrical panel and make it ready for a tenant."
The 6,000-square-foot building would be perfect for a restaurant, said Mr. Sliger, who renovated the Terminal Brewhouse and Hair of the Dog restaurants on Market Street. He sees the Big Ben's building being used in a similar way.
"It could work just as well as an office space," Mr. Sliger said.
Like the Terminal restaurant, the building will have indoor balconies that wrap around inside the structure, he said.
The building could sit empty for a while, Mr. Sliger said, because of the economic slump. But he said he's prepared to wait until the right buyer comes along.
The investment is good for the M.L. King corridor, which has had a multidecade deterioration of buildings and a slow exit of businesses, said Gerald Mason, who owned land and business on the boulevard for years.
"It's a shame, because it's a very historical section for the whole community," Mr. Mason said. "That was a really a thriving business area back during segregation, and many of the businesses were owned by blacks."
Mr. Mason said the corridor's lack of attention by developers over the years has been puzzling because it's so close to business, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students and family housing. He said the mix would be perfect for more investment like Mr. Sliger's.
Eastman Construction aims to make the building attractive again, Mr. Sliger said. It will feature large windows like those in the Terminal building. He plans to repair decaying brick work, too.
"It will take about three months for the demolition to be complete," Mr. Sliger said. "And so by the end of summer, first of fall, we should be ready for a tenant."