Cigna property in East Brainerd sells for $24.7 million to house new school and residential development

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The former Cigna Insurance office building at 7555 Goodwin Road in East Brainerd, pictured March 14, was purchased this week by a unit of Empire Communities in Atlanta, which then sold this property to the Hamilton County school system for $7.9 million.
Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The former Cigna Insurance office building at 7555 Goodwin Road in East Brainerd, pictured March 14, was purchased this week by a unit of Empire Communities in Atlanta, which then sold this property to the Hamilton County school system for $7.9 million.

One of the biggest undeveloped sites in East Brainerd should be developed into apartments, new homes and another Hamilton County public school following the $24.7 million sale of the 95-acre site.

Health insurer Cigna sold its property on Goodwin Road earlier this week to an Atlanta real estate partnership formed by Empire Communities. After buying the entire parcel, Empire's investment group, EA Home LP, sold the former 98,000-square-foot office and surrounding parking lot with nearly 19 acres to the Hamilton County school system for $7.9 million. The investment group also sold another parcel for $9 million to an investment group known as Mrep-East Brainerd LLC, which plans to build up to 351 apartment units and 200 senior living units.

For its part, Empire Communities has obtained a zoning change to allow the development firm to build 230 single-family houses on the undeveloped property along Godwin Road in East Brainerd.

The East Brainerd site behind the Hamilton Village shopping center along Goodwin Road was initially bought and developed more than three decades ago by the former Provident Life & Accident Insurance Co. for the company's health care division Heathsource. An office complex was erected on the site in 1990, and Cigna later took over Healthsource operations and continued to use the facility as a call center and customer service facility that once housed more than 450 workers.

But after the pandemic forced Cigna to send its call center employees home to work in 202o, the company ultimately decided in August 2021 to maintain its remote workforce and sell its East Brainerd facility.

In June, Hamilton County planners agreed to rezone 72 acres of the site for the subdivision, apartment units and independent senior living units. Map Engineers is working on the site design.

"Empire Communities has tried to take a holistic approach to this development and bring a quality development in this area with green spaces and connection to the school site," said Mike Price, owner of Map Engineers, to the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.

Last month, county commissioners approved the purchase of the vacant Cigna office and surrounding 19 acres to locate a new school.

Hamilton County Director of Facilities Justin Witt told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in October the new school would have the capacity for 750 students and would sit across the street from East Brainerd Elementary School, which is over capacity and has a headcount of about 1,000 students. Witt said officials have considered using the new site for students in kindergarten through second or third grades, which would free up space at East Brainerd Elementary and allow that facility to serve the remaining elementary grades.

Witt estimated that renovating the Cigna facility would cost $15 million to $20 million in addition to the $7.9 million spent on purchasing the land.

School officials said that's cheaper than the approximately $35 million it would cost to build a brand new school, which doesn't include acquiring property.

Steve Doremus, director of communications for Hamilton County Schools, said in an emailed statement Friday that the school district will develop recommendations for the school board to consider for its newly acquired property.

"Once a usage plan is approved by the board, a scope of work for modifying the facility for its new role will be determined, and funding for renovations will be identified," he said. "Pending completion of these steps, there is no firm timetable for when the facility will become fully operational."

Staff writer David Floyd contributed to this story.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.


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