Tennessee Temple University puts Highland Park campus on market

photo The sign for Tennessee Temple University can be seen on the university's campus in Chattanooga.
photo Site of Tennessee Temple's 21-acre Highland Park campus.

Tennessee Temple University is listing the bulk of its 21-acre Highland Park campus for sale, President Dr. Steve Echols told students Tuesday.

School officials on Sunday indicated they were exploring the possibility of a move to the 170-acre campus of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Tyner.

The property, as of this morning, is listed for $19.6 million by Herman Waldorff Commercial Real Estate.

"We have already gotten such strong support [on the idea of moving]," said Echols. "It's been so overwhelming, we said, hey, let's go ahead and put this in a more formal way."

The more than 21 acres includes 470,000 square feet of improved structures within the fenced campus, plus the school's distant education building, an elementary school building, warehouse building and some vacant land beyond the fence.

"It'll be interesting to see how the market responds," said listing agent Benjamin Pitts. "It's a big chunk of land close to downtown Chattanooga. It will be inherently interesting to certain segments of the market."

One of those segments saying no for now is Redemption Point Church, which bought the adjacent former Highland Park Baptist Church in April for $3.1 million.

Pastor Kevin Wallace said the church has an interest in some segments of the property but understood the school wants to sell it together.

"We're certainly concerned about who comes in," he said. "We're praying for the right people. We're looking forward to this thing and the unfolding of it."

Jeff Cannon, deputy chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said the neighborhood should have top priority.

"Mayor Berke and his administration are 100 percent focused on the solution that is best for the Highland Park neighborhood and what [residents] want to see out of it," he said.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga spokesman Chuck Cantrell said the school hasn't had time to consider the implications of the sale.

"The idea of land becoming available from Tennessee Temple's moving," he said, "is such a new prospect that UTC has not had an opportunity to fully consider the possibilities."

A call to Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise about interest in the property was not returned.

Pitts said the "highest and best use" of the 21 acres is its present use as educational space.

With dormitories, classrooms, offices, gym and a soccer field, among other amenities, another education institute "could make immediate use" of the campus, he said. It's also less than a mile as the crow flies from growing UTC, he said.

"Retail-oriented businesses that would like to be close to downtown" also are likely to show an interest, Pitts said.

Young professional families have moved into Highland Park in the past 10 years. That, along with the establishment of the Girls Leadership Academy, have been stabilizing forces in the neighborhood, he said.

Echols said Tennessee Temple University is not about to pull up stakes and move out of the neighborhood in the near future. Even if a buyer was to come along, he said, the school would probably lease back the school until, or if, something concrete can be established with Woodland Park Baptist.

He said he told students Tuesday they weren't homeless, the school was growing and making improvements, and "we would make the best of what we have here."

"We're in a good position to be in here," Echols said. "I think the students all really got it.

"There's so many scenarios [about how a move to Woodland Park could occur]," he said, "so we have to be fluid."

Woodland Park Baptist's senior pastor, Dr. Wayne Barber, said Tennessee Temple's move doesn't change anything for the church, which still must draw up a nonbinding memorandum of understanding on a possible move and then put groups together to discuss the possibilities. Only after that would a vote of church members occur, a prospect he said is "down the road."

"We knew they were going to do that," he said of the campus being put up for sale. "[The church announcement Sunday] released them to be able to do what they needed to do."

Echols said the property has great potential.

"In time, everybody will know who's serious and who's not," he said. "Maybe some of the things floating around [as rumors of potential buyers] will coalesce."

Contact Clint Cooper at [email protected] or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.