Five-story assisted living facility planned for former Casey site on Chattanooga's North Shore

The Southern Belle riverboat moves upstream on the Tennessee River in this view of the land behind the former Casey barge that can now be seen by Chattanoogans.

We're going after quality of life.

A $30 million assisted living facility, proposed for a Manufacturers Road site that for many years was owned by Chattanooga developer Allen Casey, won approval from a city panel on Thursday.

The five-story facility, called Merrill Gardens at Chattanooga, will hold 136 assisted living units and another 15 memory care rooms, said developer Clayton Mozingo of Second Fifty Communities.

The 29,700-square-foot building, approved by the city's Form Based Code Committee, would sit across Manufacturers Road from 2 North Shore, the office and retail development that holds Whole Foods and Rock/Creek, among other stores.

Mozingo said the location is close to restaurants and other amenities which residents, who could number up to 250, might like to visit.

"We're going after quality of life," he said.

Work is expected to start this year with completion in 2021, the Charleston, S.C., developer said.

The site is about half of a vacant parcel where Chattanooga Choo Choo developer Casey had wanted to put a hotel and residential units at one time.

Chattanoogan John Clark, whose American River Development LLC is selling the land, said his company still owns several lots going toward the Tennessee River. He said there are no plans for other projects on that property now.

"One at a time," Clark said.

In 2014, the parcel became embroiled in a Casey bankruptcy court case. Last year, a 6.6-acre tract at the site was sold for $5.5 million to American River Development.

The assisted living facility's development group had wanted approval to raise the building's height from four to five stories. Also, the project called for 87 parking spaces, a 36 percent reduction from what's typical under existing zoning.

Brad Ecklund of the Seattle-based firm Urbal Architecture said there are other 5-story buildings nearby.

Panel member Matt Whitaker said the board has in the past approved some additional building levels.

"We've split about extra floors," he said.

Also, Ecklund said, residents of such facilities often don't drive so all the parking spaces aren't needed. Much of the parking would be used by facility's estimated 25 employees, officials said.

Emily Dixon, the city panel's development review planner, said the builders have put up multiple similar projects.

"This isn't their first rodeo," she said. "They've done their research."

Mozingo said the parking ratio is typical for such projects the group has done in other parts of the country.

The Casey property is part of an 11-acre tract that sits in a key spot nearly directly across the river from the Tennessee Aquarium. The other part is owned by Chattanooga businessman Jackson Wingfield.

In 2009, Casey brought a barge to the city to put in a floating restaurant and bar at the site. But that project fizzled and the vessel deteriorated over the years, leading to an extended fight over removing the barge, which happened in 2015.

Casey, who developed the Choo Choo into one of Tennessee's top attractions decades ago, and one of his companies filed for bankruptcy in 2014 as he faced a civil trial related to the lawsuit brought by former investors.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.