New downtown Chattanooga apartments reflect tension of old and new

$35 million apartment project readies to opens next door to Pilgrim's Pride poultry plant

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ The new apartment complex on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga is a $35 million project. It borders 17th Street and the 50-year-old Pilgrim's Pride poultry plant.

One of downtown Chattanooga's most expensive apartment buildings will soon start pre-leasing, and the developer says that dealing with its poultry plant neighbor is part of urban living.

"If people want to be in downtown with all the activity, they'll unfortunately have to put up with some things not as nice as the suburbs," said John Murphy of Knoxville-based Murphy Development.

The $35 million, 158-unit apartment building on Broad Street sits across 17th Street from the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant. The plant and its unique odor have been a lightning rod for criticism by some, even as others defend the facility and the jobs it provides.

Murphy said he builds in other cities' downtowns and sees the same type of tension.

"The outskirts of central business districts were light industrial," he said. "In the last decade, it has changed dramatically."

Murphy said he's struck by the condominiums and townhomes in the "immediate area" of his project, which are selling from $350,000 to $600,000 each.

Just this week, a Chattanooga-based information technology company, Conversant Group, revealed plans for an up to $9 million headquarters building just a block away at 1600 Broad St.

John Anthony Smith, the company's founder and president, told a city panel that the chicken plant is "bad for our city."

"Our city stinks," he added, asking the panel to do something about the plant.

Last year, there was talk of a possible chicken processing plant relocating to Northwest Georgia. Dade County residents were told that Chattanooga real estate developer John Wise was considering helping facilitate the move of Pilgrim's Pride to a 300-acre farm he purchased earlier last year in the county. But, Wise told the Times Free Press he had no plans at that time to develop anything on the property, adding that he wanted to keep it as a "gentleman's farm" and provide quail hunts.

Still, Southside Chattanooga resident Eric Wilkerson defended the presence of the chicken plant, citing the people who live in the area who need the jobs. The plant and another Pilgrim's Pride facility in the Southside employ about 1,300 workers, according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Wilkerson, who said he lives on Williams Street, added that people who don't like the plant don't have to live or work in the area, noting it was there first.

Amy Donahue, director of marketing and communication for the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co., said the Southside and Main Street have changed greatly in the last 10 to 15 years.

"We have to have a conversation around all uses and parcels," she said. "Ultimately you have someone who is a private business that owns property and they get to make choices of what's on their property. We have to look at that from a respectful place. But there is a time to say 'Does it make sense?"'

Murphy said last summer that his five-story project was about nine months behind schedule due to an issue with a contractor. Still, he said, the delay may have been fortunate due to an array of new apartment projects coming on line last year.

"It might work out perfect for us," he said.

The developer said rents are to range from $1,100 to $2,200 per month for efficiency, one- and two-bedroom units. He added that the apartment building has a garage with 196 spaces, which he said is an advantage over some apartment complexes don't have adequate parking.

"We're one of the few in the downtown core with structured parking," Murphy said. He said the complex has a pool, a sky deck on the fifth floor and a fitness club area.

Donahue said downtown had a lot of apartment units come on line at roughly the same time and that there's an absorption period.

Most of the residential interest River City is seeing now is in the for-sale market, she said.

"A healthy market is a little bit of everything," Donahue said.

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