Few people who pass the St. George Hotel on Market Street across from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo these days can remember when it was a thriving establishment that mostly served passengers from the railroad terminal across the street. No wonder. The building has been vacant for a couple of decades and is in disrepair. That's about to change. The architecturally significant structure will get new life -- and attention -- if current plans to turn the space into condominiums and commercial space come to fruition..
Work to update and preserve the building, which has gone through bankruptcies and foreclosures in recent years, has already started. Crews are tearing down part of the building but will preserve the front part of the structure. That's a welcome decision on the part of Craig Driver, the developer who purchased and is renovating the site.
Preserving the front part of the four-story building while erecting new space behind it will preserve, at least in part, one of the few Art Deco buildings still standing in the downtown area. Doing so adds another visual presence in the catalogue of important if sometimes overlooked pieces of the city's rich architectural heritage. It also will allow the repurposed structure to fit seamlessly into the streetscape in the resurgent Southside. And it proves, once again, that it is possible -- indeed desirable -- to preserve the old and still serve the stiff demands of the competitive, present-day marketplace.
Developing the St. George Hotel extends the on-going renaissance taking place in the heart of Chattanooga. That work began decades ago along the banks of the Tennessee River. It has since spread to the North Shore to Main Street and the Southside, to the bluffs above the river near downtown and beyond. The St. George, in fact, stands on a thoroughfare where some old buildings now fulfill new roles and other projects are in various stages of development. Other structures in the vicinity still await savvy owners and developers. If recent history is a guide, they might not have to wait too long.
Chattanooga's rebirth and redevelopment have become a model for thoughtful urban growth and for the public-private partnerships that has made such progress possible. That reputation has grown incrementally over the years. The St. George Hotel project is the latest project in the vital process that is the foundation for the community's continued prosperity.