Chattanooga's West Village expands as developer buys Marriott, Days Inn, Indigo hotels

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / The Hotel Indigo at Pine and Sixth streets marks a new boundary for the expanded West Village.

Chattanooga's West Village, which has turned into a downtown hot spot, is expanding as its developer has bought three nearby hotels over the past few months and invested about $90 million.

The acquisition of the Chattanooga Marriott Downtown next to the city's convention center, the nearby Days Inn Rivergate and the Hotel Indigo now stretches the West Village's footprint from Carter Street, across East M.L. King Boulevard and to West Sixth Street.

"We wanted to create a boutique convention area," said Byron DeFoor, who with brother Ken created the West Village in 2017 with the Westin Hotel as its centerpiece at M.L. King and Pine Street.

Byron DeFoor said the hotel purchases give the West Village about 828 rooms. Along with the nearby Read House and Bode hotels, that pushes the number of rooms in and around the West Village to well over 1,000, DeFoor said.

Efforts are to start next week to renovate the common areas of the 16-level, 341-room Marriott, which he said had become "tired" looking.

"It's going under a deep renovation," DeFoor said of the high-rise, built in 1985. The hotel will retain the Marriott badge.

Plans call for upgrading the Days Inn at M.L. King and Carter Street and turning it into "a retro unique hotel," he said. The hotel is to be renamed after the DeFoor brothers' recently deceased father and called the Hotel Bo by Wyndham.

"[Wyndham] was impressed with what we've done with our other hotels," said DeFoor, citing the Westin and the 203-room Embassy Suites near Hamilton Place mall.

He said the revamped Hotel Bo, complete with exterior fountains, will offer "a new ambiance coming into the central city" from U.S. Highway 27.

"We want to make it a very special entrance to the city," DeFoor said. The three-story hotel was built in 1963 and has 110 rooms.

In addition, the DeFoor brothers bought the 11-story, 117-room Hotel Indigo, which opened late last year at Sixth and Pine streets. The Indigo is part of the InterContinental Hotel Group brand.

DeFoor joked that the brothers finding lenders for hotels in the pandemic market was like asking "to finance a nuclear waste site."

Mike Shuford, who directs the city's convention center, said he's excited about plans for the adjacent Marriott and the West Village expansion.

"Everything they've done, it's all first class," he said "We don't think the Marriott will be an exception there."

Shuford said that when trying to attract conventions, the key is offering an attractive package.

"Having the Marriott, Days Inn, Westin and Indigo controls a lot of rooms," he said, noting that convention planners will be dealing with one entity.

Barry White, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Tourism Co., said the DeFoors' investment elevates the hospitality offerings in the city and will attract new and returning events and meetings.

"They're a great tourism partner in that they think through the complete visitor experience, and they're committed to our community," he said. "Having local ownership of these tourism assets has a positive economic and social impact on Hamilton County."

The renovation of the majority of the guest areas at the Marriott and Days Inn are to be complete for the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival in October, DeFoor said. The debut festival was held in 2019, while last year's was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, which hit the city's convention and hospitality businesses, including the West Village.

The festival, centered around the West Village, was envisioned by DeFoor, a classic car owner and avid racer. In 2012, he teamed up with rocker Brian Johnson of the band AC/DC to drive the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway.

"It's not our duty in life to predict our future, it's to create it," DeFoor said.

He said the car show "will fill every hotel from here to Cleveland [Tennessee] and Dalton [Georgia], and we hope it helps all the merchants downtown."

The Westin, at 10 stories and 260 rooms, was the focal point of an estimated $88 million in work in 2017 that brought new life to a part of downtown that had been largely forgotten for years.

The DeFoor brothers, who are involved in banking, health care and development, undertook a total makeover to what had been called the Gold Building. The structure had served as the headquarters for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee for decades until that company moved into a new corporate campus across U.S. 27 on Cameron Hill.

DeFoor recalled that he and his brother had "no positive feedback" early on in the project, and there was one bank, Commercial Bank in Harrogate, Tennessee, willing to help them.

In addition to the hotel, the DeFoors attracted retailers and restaurants to the several-block area and remade the streetscape with the help of the city. DeFoor said he's hopeful the city will help on future streetscape work.

"We knew we wanted to entertain families and make it feel safe," he said.

Shuford said the city's convention business is starting to come back after the pandemic.

"Our calendar is looking good this year after Labor Day," he said.

Shuford said it likely will be 2022 and 2023 until the convention business fully returns.

DeFoor recalled that during the worst of the pandemic, the Westin was serving as a location where some 36,000 meals were distributed to food-insecure people before the federal government started helping.

"We gave the Food Bank a little bit of relief," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.