Work on one of the biggest mixed-use projects in Chattanooga's downtown to begin soon near Unum

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Following Monday's groundbreaking, Beach Company of Charleston, (SC) President John Darby, center, stands with partner Marc Leder, left, and Beach Company Development Manager Alan McMahon and talks about the new River Rock development that will take over the downtown block of land they stand on for a large condo project located between 3rd and 4th Streets.

A Charleston, South Carolina, developer of downtown condos, apartments and retail stores across the South will soon bring one of the biggest new mixed-use projects to Chattanooga's downtown.

On a former Unum surface parking lot just a couple of blocks from the Walnut Street Bridge, the Beach Company announced today it will soon start construction on a 3.5-acre complex of 151 apartments, a dozen condominiums and 16,000 square feet of commercial space built around a 300-space parking facility just north of Unum's corporate headquarters.

"We've invested all across the Southeast, but not in Chattanooga until now and we're really excited to be here," John Darby, the third generation CEO of the Beach Co., said today during a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new River Rock project. "There's a lot about Chattanooga that reminds me of my hometown (Charleston), including that both cities are now in the top 10 list by Conde' Nast of the best small cities to visit."

Beach Company Development Manager Alan McMahon said the developers hope to have the first apartments ready to rent by the end of 2020 and the entire complex, which will include a half dozen buildings from three to five stories in height, completed by 2021.

McMahan said he believes market demand for the apartments, along with the proposed town homes, will be strong given the location and amenities to be offered at River Rock. The complex of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom will feature a swimming pool, fitness center and retail shops, although no tenants have yet been named for the project.

More than 6,000 apartments or condo units have been built or are under construction in and around Chattanooga since 2015, but McMahan said studies show there is still a strong demand for class A, well-located rental units in Chattanooga like what River Rock will offer.

"We think there is a lot of pent up demand for apartments downtown," McMahan said. "We feel good about the market because people want to live in downtown Chattanooga."

Kim White, the president of the River City Co. which developed a master plan for reusing Unum's parking lots, said more than 34,000 persons work along the 4th street corridor from BlueCross and BlueShield of Tennessee through downtown and to Memorial Hospital in Glenwood.

River Rock is only a couple of blocks from the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge, which Mayor Andy Berke noted was voted by American Planning Association as one of the 10 Great Public Spaces in America five years ago, and is close to downtown restaurants, businesses and riverfront entertainment.

"This is right around the corner from great music, restaurants, jobs and all the other things that make Chattanooga such a great city," Berke said

Darby said he was initially attracted to Chattanooga after visiting the city during a 2015 football game between the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and The Citadel, where Darby played football himself. Although Darby said he was disappointed that his alma mater lost that game on what is said was a trick play, he still came away impressed with Chattanooga and ready to invest in its downtown.

The Beach Company is teaming up with Boca Raton, Florida investment firm, Sun Capital Partners Inc., to develop what River City Co. previously estimated as a $48 million project. The developers have been negotiating for nearly four years with Unum, which owns the parking lot and set the terms for the sale and future use of the site.

The biggest parking lot is bounded by Cherry, Walnut, Third and Fourth streets and is used for public parking. A smaller adjacent lot across Cherry Street and behind the Hair of the Dog pub, also now is public parking.

EMJ Corp. has been selected as the general contractor for the project, which was designed by McMillan Paddan Smith Architecture.