Downtown Chattanooga's historic John Ross Building to see major makeover

Staff photo by Mike Pare / The John Ross Building, which has long sat empty, was part of a downtown auto dealership.
Staff photo by Mike Pare / The John Ross Building, which has long sat empty, was part of a downtown auto dealership.

A high-profile building that has sat empty for years at one of downtown Chattanooga's key gateways is slated to undergo a multimillion-dollar makeover into office space.

The John Ross Building, which borders Fourth Street and runs between Market and Broad streets, will shed its no-window look to become modern offices, officials said Thursday.

"It's a major undertaking," said Todd Kimling, a project manager for Chattanooga-based Noon Development, which plans to buy the four-story structure built in 1929.

Kimling said the transformation is expected to start before the end of 2021 on the building, which for many years was part of an auto dealership and still holds a car ramp inside.

He said plans are for 60,000-square-feet of office space to be ready in mid-2022. Kimling said the development group has some "preliminary tenants."

"We hope to have that very soon," he said.

The project won a variance from the city's Form-Based Code Committee after a relatively brief discussion by the panel.

photo Rendering for John Ross building / Contributed by Franklin Architects

Committee Chairman Jim Williamson said the planned design is "phenomenally better" than how the building now looks.

Steve Haase of Franklin Architects said the structure is built on three sides on the tract's property line on a trio of major downtown streets. Fourth Street was widened in the recent past, making the sidewalk next to the building a narrower than typically found in the center city.

On the opposite side, Noon Development earlier renovated space to hold medical and other offices.

Two years ago, Chattanooga businessman Joe Palmer and a partner paid $3.2 million for the John Ross Building. Palmer said then that he saw potential uses including a restaurant, entertainment venue, office space and even a boutique hotel.

But perhaps the most novel possible use he mentioned was to recapture the building's automotive past and create a place on the second level to hold exotic cars and serve as a club for enthusiasts.

A year later, a plan was floated to turn the building into a logistics industry centerpiece. FreightWaves, the Chattanooga transportation and logistics data and content company, eyed the structure as a video production studio and office space. However, that concept didn't move forward.

Nearly a century ago, the block initially held a Buick dealership. Later, the site became Newton Chevrolet, which eventually moved to Riverfront Parkway and West M.L. King.

In 2007, Newton Chevrolet was sold to the Watson family and became Mountain View Chevrolet. The dealership later relocated to a new home on East 20th Street. The Riverfront Parkway tract on was later sold and redeveloped.

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

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