Chattanooga needs more commercial sites to compete with neighboring cities, officials say

Outside developers are already lining up to spend millions in Scenic City investments.

Photography by Jesse Hunter/Overnight Agency / Downtown Chattanooga skyline

Matt Phillips of the Rise Partners commercial real estate firm in Chattanooga believes the city is behind some of its peers when it comes to offering companies the space that businesses need.

"We're a land-constrained market," he says, citing Hamilton County's hilly terrain. "It makes it difficult to find a good site."

Chattanooga and Hamilton County developers, sometimes with the help of local government, are moving ahead with several high-profile projects to create more room for companies.

In Phillips' case, his group has proposed a new 88-acre industrial park in Chattanooga on much of the former DuPont plant property off North Access Road. Rise Partners plans to build four buildings totaling 800,000 square feet at the new North River Commerce Park. Work is to start in late summer and the first structure is set to open in 2023, Phillips says. He says the proposed $102-million industrial park could provide 600 full-time jobs when complete.

photo Photography by Robin Rudd / U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks at an event marking the retrofitting of a former Alstom manufacturing plant at The Bend for use by Novonix, which makes materials for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

Huntsville, Alabama, and Greenville, South Carolina, are among the cities with which Chattanooga needs to play catch-up, Phillips says.

"We believe this project is (a) dire need," he says.

Jimmy White, of the Chattanooga-based Urban Story Ventures development group, is overseeing plans for redeveloping a 120-acre parcel on downtown's west side that formerly held the Alstom manufacturing site (now called The Bend). White says more space, including housing, is required as companies have discovered midsize cities such as Chattanooga coming out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Were seeing a lot of developers outside Chattanooga. Theyre now focused on Chattanooga. Theyve done development work in Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston. Chattanooga is trending. Its a great spot for economic growth. Theres a favorable business climate here.

"We're seeing a lot of developers outside Chattanooga," he says. "They're now focused on Chattanooga. They've done development work in Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston. Chattanooga is trending. It's a great spot for economic growth. There's a favorable business climate here."

White's group last year entered into an agreement with an Australian company, which is working on a $160-million project to retrofit a former Alstom turbine manufacturing plant. The company, Novonix, this year plans to start producing synthetic graphite, a material being used in the building of batteries for electric vehicles and power-grid storage.

White says he has six to eight deals in the pipeline for The Bend that are "significant investments," which he can't yet talk about publicly. They involve not only new housing, but general and medical office space, the hospitality sector, as well as corporate headquarters, he says.

David DeVaney, who heads the Chattanooga commercial real estate firm NAI Charter, says 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 says.

Also, commercial space is expected to be a large part of the proposed redevelopment of the U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry property in the city's South Broad District.

With a new Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball stadium as the planned anchor, city and county officials see new housing, offices, retail and restaurants.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says the eventual private investment in that 120-acre site between Broad Street and Interstate-24 could reach more than $1 billion.

"It's not about the ballpark. It's about the development," he says.

Coppinger says the baseball stadium would leverage the new development while at the same time turning the rundown old foundry site into a gateway for Chattanooga.

Jim Irwin, president of New City Properties of Atlanta, says that as the foundry site's master developer, he envisions "a tremendously exciting opportunity."

Irwin says he will serve as a gatekeeper for developers interested in building on the site, and his company also is looking at potential projects.

Already, Core Development of Nashville is eyeing $150 million in new commercial and residential development in a live-work-play environment adjacent to the proposed stadium.


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