Old Southside YMCA to become social club in multimillion-dollar makeover of downtown Chattanooga building

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Common House, a contemporary social club, is set to open in the former Chattanooga YMCA property on Mitchell Street on the Southside.

The historic, former YMCA building on Chattanooga's Southside will become a social club with a restaurant, hotel rooms, and co-working and event space in a multimillion-dollar makeover.

Called Common House Chattanooga, the 91-year-old structure at 1517 Mitchell Ave. is expected to open late this year as new life emerges in the four-story, white stucco building that was vacant for more than 35 years.

"We fell in love with the building," said Ben Pfinsgraff, co-founder of Common House with Derek Sieg, about the structure just off East Main Street. "It's one of the coolest buildings I've ever been in."

Common House, which calls itself "a contemporary social club," will pattern the Chattanooga location after one in Charlottesville, Virginia, and another opening soon in Richmond, the founders said during a walk-through of the building.

"It's a place to belong ... with other people in community," said Sieg.

Working with building owner Walk2Town Holdings, plans are to restore the Italian renaissance revival-style structure that also will feature a social hall, full gym, outdoor pool, seven hotel rooms and a bridal suite.

In addition, the 30,000-square-foot facility will have a rooftop terrace, garden courtyard, and wine shop, said the co-founders who opened the Charlottesville club three years ago.

They're partnering with Walk2Town, which bought the building in late 2018 for $2.75 million from Chattanooga businessman Jack Kruesi.

Matthew King, Walk2Town's chief executive, said plans are to spend "mutiples" of the purchase price to bring the building back.

King said he's a Common House member in Charlottesville and "the light bulb went off" in terms of transforming the former "Industrial Y" building in Chattanooga into the club.

Walk2Town and affiliate Walk2Campus have redone a number of structures near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and turned those into housing since 2012.

"We're old building junkies," King said. "It's a unique opportunity to bring this back to life."

Pfinsgraff said the Charlottesville club has become a place to meet new people.

"People operate in silos," he said, adding that programming of the club space is key. "We didn't want a traditional country club."

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The former Southside YMCA building was raised in 1929 and offered 58 dorm rooms, a swimming pool and basketball gymnasium. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, officials say.

Sieg said that, interestingly, a talk on bitcoin was one of the most popular programs. He said about 35% of club members in Charlottesville are under age 30.

The old YMCA building was raised in 1929 and had 58 dorm rooms, a swimming pool and basketball gymnasium. When it was built, people could get an inexpensive room along with access to the pool and gym. But the building ceased functioning in the mid-1980s and it fell into disrepair.

The entrance to Common House Chattanooga will be off Mitchell and people will walk into a space with an old fireplace on one end and wide, dark-wood beams on the room's ceiling.

The old pool also on the ground floor will be covered with that room turned into a fitness area offering wellness classes, Sieg said. A new pool is to be constructed outside.

In the above floors, there will be dining and lounge space, officials said, with the old gym a location to hold events. Co-working space is to be located on the third floor. The top floor will have the handful of hotel rooms, which is a new wrinkle for Common House.

Sieg said there will be an initiation fee and monthly costs for members. He didn't have those fees yet, saying they're working on pricing. But, Sieg said, there may be different rate plans. including those for people under-30, couples and families.

Former Mayor Jon Kinsey, a longtime investor in the Southside with an interest in the Chattanooga Choo Choo, said he's excited to see the former YMCA building revived. He quipped that one of his partners, Ben Probasco, learned to swim there.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @Mike PareTFP.