Chattanooga's Core Homes tapped to build 2023 St. Jude Dream Home

Staff photo by Olivia Ross  / JR McGaha, owner of Core Homes, poses for a portrait on August 2, 2022 at the River Breeze subdivision. Core Homes has been selected to build the St. Jude Dream Home.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / JR McGaha, owner of Core Homes, poses for a portrait on August 2, 2022 at the River Breeze subdivision. Core Homes has been selected to build the St. Jude Dream Home.

For some, a side hustle is driving for Uber or cutting yards.

For JR McGaha, it was building homes.

"My wife and I got married in 1990," he said. "We hired a builder for our first home, and I was really intrigued by the whole process."

McGaha said he got his contractor's license in 2003. For the next 15 years, he said, he averaged building "a home to a home-and-a-half" per year, all while holding down a full-time information-technology job at Kenco Logistics.

McGaha said that in 2018, he finally decided to leave Kenco and launch Core Homes.

"It was a really hard decision," he recalled. "Not only had I worked in IT for 30 years, but it was all at the same company – I'd never worked anywhere else."

McGaha said he was spurred to make his decision when he was approached by a Chattanooga-area developer who proposed a partnership – the developer would be a silent partner and secure the land on which Core would build.

"He said he'd watched me along the way," said McGaha, who declined to identify the developer. "Getting land is one of the hardest things to do, so when he approached me with this partnership, that's what really helped [me decide]."

As of late July, McGaha said, Core had finished 46 homes and had 28 more under way. He declined specifics with regard to sales figures, but said that his company has consistently "doubled the number of houses we've built every year" and is on pace to do so again this year.

"What we try to do is build a custom feel into every home, even if that home was built on spec," he said. "We have finishes in our homes you wouldn't necessarily see in spec homes."

McGaha said that Core builds primarily in Apison, Soddy-Daisy and Harrison. The latter area's Lake Breeze neighborhood, in fact, is set to be the site of Core's highest-profile project yet – the 2023 St. Jude Dream Home.

"Lake Breeze is less than a mile from a public boat launch and sits near the river with a community pool and green space," McGaha said. "It's a perfect setting for the Dream Home."

According to its website, Memphis-based St. Jude Children's Hospital conducts about 40 Dream Home giveaways nationwide each year. St. Jude sells raffle tickets, then draws the winner - typically in June.

Core Homes got into the running on the Dream Home when, according to Chattanooga Realtor Becky Cope English, she got a call from Geoff Ramsey, a friend and fellow Realtor.

"Geoff is a huge supporter of St. Jude," said English, adding that Ramsey gave her and her husband a tour of the Memphis hospital in 2017.

"I got goosebumps," she said. "St. Jude is one of those places that feels like it's magic."

English said Ramsey called to ask if she could help find the next Dream Home builder. She said she thought of Core, then reached out to fellow Realtor Kadi Brown, who's worked closely with the builder.

A short time later, English said, she got a handwritten thank-you note from Core.

"It's wonderful that [Core's] going to do it," she said. "They're very professional, a quality builder."

Cheryl Moore, Core's marketing director, said the company will donate its time and labor, while additional donations will come from participating subcontractors and vendors. Any cost over and above donations will be reimbursed by St. Jude itself, she added.

McGaha said groundbreaking is set for early September, and the Dream Home should be ready for visitors by May. The design of the house is "completely up to us," he added.

"We've identified a corner lot and have a plan in mind," he said, adding that the value of the finished product will likely be in the half-million-dollar range.

"We're still kind of a little guy in the big picture, so this is a real big deal for us – and an honor to be associated with St. Jude," McGaha said.

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