East Ridge seeking $13 million state grant for Red Wolves development

Rendering contributed by Bob Martino / Townhouses such as these are planned for The Gateway mixed-use project in East Ridge.

The East Ridge City Council on Thursday agreed to request $13 million in state funds to help the Chattanooga Red Wolves owner with public infrastructure in his planned $200 million development.

"I'm excited about the development," Mayor Brian Williams said at a meeting of the panel. "We're seeing that come to fruition already."

Developer Bob Martino, who owns the soccer team and is building the mixed-use project at Interstate-75 and Interstate-24, said the chance to land the state grant is "a great opportunity for public infrastructure" such as for parking lots, sewer, water and sidewalks.

"It will help us with a lot of improvements," he said in an interview.

Martino said the grant is similar to what was provided to Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, who is redeveloping a downtown site in that city into a new minor league baseball stadium along with nearby development.

Also, in January, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly sought $13.5 million from the state for a new multi-use venue in which the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league team would serve as the primary user. Kelly, in a letter to Gov. Bill Lee, also cited the Knoxville facility in the request, which additionally sought $7.3 million for environmental cleanup at Chattanooga's former U.S. Pipe/ Wheland Foundry site.

Martino said he's already made a lot of improvements to the 110-acre parcel around CHI Memorial Stadium, where the Red Wolves opened play in 2020.

He said he's ramping up construction of 144 luxury townhomes near the stadium on the tract, which is now called The Gateway.

The Utah developer, who said he has bought property in Ooltewah for a home, added that the $140 million phase one of the planned project includes commercial space, offices, apartments and condominiums. At least one more phase is planned for the property, Martino said.

In contrast to other projects, he said, he's actually making his happen.

"We're already doing it," Martino said. "There's too much about proposals. There's no disputing we're doing what we said we'd do. We're in a different position and have a lot going on."

East Ridge City Attorney Mark Litchford said at the meeting that the deadline for applying for the grant is Friday. He said there's no guarantee that the state will provide the funds.

"It goes directly to the city," he said. "The city had to do the asking."

If granted, the funds would be administered through the city's Industrial Development Board, Litchford said. He said there's no matching money required under the State Partnership Grant with the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Williams said the grant is "another tool to enhance this stadium project for the city and the region."

The panel voted unanimously to approve the grant application with a final agreement between the city and developer to be worked up later.

Martino said construction should begin going upward in about two weeks on the townhomes, which will start in the high $300,000 range.

The initial 2,250-square-foot units will include three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, a one-car garage and room for storage, according to the developer.

Martino said The Gateway will hold restaurants, craft breweries and other retail options.

"Residents will be able to shop, walk to dinner and enjoy a live professional soccer match, concert or other event all in their own neighborhood," Martino said.

Already pegged as East Ridge's biggest-ever commercial project, the planned development has grown to about $200 million, up from $125 million when it was originally proposed a couple of years ago, Martino said.

In 2019, the East Ridge City Council voted for a Border Region Retail Development District state sales tax incentive for Martino's project. That allowed the city to recapture the growth in sales tax collections within the zone and then plow those funds back into repaying investments in the area, including the $6 million stadium.

Officials said Thursday that Martino's project can't receive reimbursement twice, if the city obtains the state grant.

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