Chattanooga City Council unanimously approves hotel purchase

The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the nearly $3 million purchase of a hotel on Lee Highway with plans to turn it into low-income housing.

The Airport Inn at 7725 Lee Highway, owned by Sunlight Inc., will be bought for an amount not to exceed $2.79 million, according to the resolution. The city will purchase the 74-room hotel with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The purchase is one strategy to address a homelessness issue made worse by the economic effects of the pandemic, said Councilwoman Carol Berz of Brainerd Hills, whose district covers the area.

"We're not talking about the people you're seeing in the streets," Berz said. "We're talking about people we're trying to get back into homes. Unfortunately, many of those people are middle class."

The city intends to retool the hotel and convert it into apartments and potentially other uses. The resolution stipulates that the hotel must close by Dec. 31.

The city will now seek proposals from potential management companies, Berz said. Beginning early next year, council members will hold public meetings to garner input in partnership with local entities such as Silverdale Baptist Church.

The property has been a well-documented eyesore for locals. Complaints regarding the location have concerned drug use and other crimes.

Keith Morrison, chief operating officer at The Creek Harley-Davidson, said after the meeting that it's not uncommon to find trash and needles on the property.

"We've at times had to ask people to leave the property," Morrison said, adding that he was interested in working with the city to ensure the project is in the community's best interest.

Last week, a man who identified himself as part of the Airport Inn's ownership group but declined to give his full name said the hotel is still operating. A city document lists the seller as Sunlight Inc. and its managing member as Pradip Patel with a Ringgold Road address.

The hotel, with 29,317 square feet, was built in 1988, county records show.

Meanwhile, other plans to address the city's homeless population remain in limbo.

Joda Thongnopnua, interim chief of staff for Mayor Tim Kelly, last week said the city isn't considering an option such as was eyed by officials earlier this year that looked at moving the homeless into hotel rooms in Chattanooga and East Ridge.

In March, the city unveiled a plan to rent up to 100 hotel rooms in East Ridge to provide shelter for Chattanooga's homeless population in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Chattanooga officials tapped the brakes on the proposal after East Ridge representatives said they were caught off guard by the plan.

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