Owners of Chattanooga's The Bend focus on waterfront with revamped Riverwalk, boat slips and hotel

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / The Novonix building on Saturday, November 20, 2021.

With battery materials maker Novonix anchoring one part of The Bend, the owners of the huge tract are now focusing on the waterfront, where they're looking to shift the Riverwalk closer to the river.

Also, a plan is under design for putting 240 boat slips at a marina, and talks are underway about a hotel at the end of Main Street, which itself will be rebuilt and continued to the riverfront, said Jimmy White of landowner Urban Story Ventures.

"We're taking [manufacturing] property, cleaning it up and bringing the river to the city," he said. "Programming the riverfront is mission-critical."

The Chattanooga real estate developer said the plans for the 120-acre parcel on downtown's west side have a lot of momentum going into 2022.

"There are a lot of projects in the pipeline," he said.

Earlier this week, Novonix kicked off a $160 million project to retrofit a former Alstom Power turbine manufacturing plant where Novonix next year plans to start producing synthetic graphite. That material is used in the building of batteries for electric vehicles and power grid storage.

White said he and Bend co-owner Hiran Desai, a Chattanooga hotel developer, are turning their sights to the 3,000 linear feet of property along the Tennessee River, much of which it acquired earlier this year from food processor ADM.

When the Riverwalk was constructed years ago through the former Alstom property, ADM didn't want the route to go through its land, which fronted the river, White said.

Therefore, the Riverwalk was built on Alstom's manufacturing property a little inland, rather than along the river, the way the trail runs on the adjacent Cameron Harbor site.

White said he wants the Riverwalk to be like "a boardwalk" with restaurants, boat slips, green space and shops for local people and tourists who may come from up and down the river to visit Chattanooga.

photo Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga real estate developer Jimmy White checks out ongoing work at The Bend, the 120-acre tract between Riverfront Parkway and the Tennessee River on downtown's west side.

"That will allow a whole new sector of tourism," he said. "They'll come from the north and the south."

White said he'll work with the city and Hamilton County and figure out the funding for the reimagined Riverwalk through The Bend.

At the end of Main Street, he foresees a resort-style hotel. Plans are to be sensitive about the height of such a building, White said.

He noted that The Bend's waterfront property sits across the river from the Moccasin Bend archaeological district.

"This is a missing piece," White said, adding that The Bend's riverfront will complete what the Tennessee Aquarium started when it was built nearly three decades ago.

David DeVaney, who heads the Chattanooga commercial real estate firm NAI Charter, said The Bend is "a unique piece of property" that offers a lot of growth opportunities for the city over the next decade or so.

"It's an unbelievably important tract of land," he said.

The Bend

— 120 acres.— Phase 1 started 2020.— Phase 2 begins early 2022.— 10 years for full build-out.— $180 million invested, 750 jobs created to date.Source: The Bend

White's group bought the parcel from GE Power for $30 million in 2018. GE Power had acquired the property from Alstom and then later announced plans to shut down manufacturing.

In 2019, after a lengthy planning effort, the company revealed possibilities for the tract including housing, hotels, manufacturing, offices, a canal, a food hall, music venue, child care center and more.

"We're creating a beautiful campus to live, work and play," White said.

Today, with Novonix and other companies being attracted to The Bend, about 750 jobs have been created at the site, according to officials.

Next month, White said he plans to seek Chattanooga City Council approval for rezoning related to future development at The Bend.

Earlier this month, a city panel approved a plan for a 10-story office tower that will be the tallest such building raised in the city in about 40 years. That 200,000-square-foot structure is slated for Main Street.

Also this fall, The Bend hosted about 33,000 people for races related to the Chattanooga Motorcar Festival, which White said he wants to see done annually.

Chris Burns, Novonix's chief executive, said his company, which plans to hire 300 people, has begun the removal of the former turbomachinery equipment and installing what it will need to meet production.

He said the Chattanooga site "works very well for us" and "making Chattanooga home for our next phase is the best choice for us."

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