Chattanooga's Goodwill begins work on Opportunity Campus in Bonny Oaks Industrial Park

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Goodwill Industries has obtained the former Lifetouch building on Preservation Drive and is renovating it for use as an "opportunity vision" campus. The Chattanooga Times Free Press toured the site on Jan. 12, 2022.

As Goodwill Industries approaches its 100th year in Chattanooga next year, the nonprofit agency that helps reclaim the value of donated used goods to support its employment mission is in the midst of one of its biggest reclamation efforts to improve its services.

Chattanooga's Goodwill is renovating the former Olan Mlls and Lifetouch photography facility in the Bonny Oaks Industrial Park to serve as a new headquarters, warehouse and training facility to replace its current location on Dodds Avenue, where Goodwill has been based for over six decades. In the same facility where Lifetouch once trained staff and processed photographed portraits, Goodwill plans to place its own administrative, training and warehouse operations in addition to partnering with other agencies to offer a more comprehensive workforce development program.

Jim Stailey, chief operating officer for Goodwill Industries of the Greater Chattanooga Area, said the new facility will allow Goodwill to serve participants and improve operational efficiency not possible in Goodwill's current facility. The headquarters and warehouse facility help provide administrative support, employment training and warehouse distribution for the 17 Goodwill stores the nonprofit operates in its 23-county area in and around Chattanooga.

"One of our strategic objectives is to be able to be a premier leader in workforce development in the communities that we serve," Stailey said in a telephone interview. "In order to do that, we felt our current facility did not have the adequate space and the potential for growth to support that vision. We began to look for a new headquarters facility with more elements and that ultimately grew into the vision of an "opportunity vision" campus.

Goodwill is still shaping that vision, but officials are eager to expand the job training, development and assistance programs they can offer workers who face challenges at work. Stailey said new programs could be offered by Goodwill or other social service and government agencies at the new and bigger campus.

The 72,750-square-foot former Lifetouch facility is more than twice the size of Goodwill's current Dodds Avenue facility, which has been the local Goodwill's home since 1959. The big dream, Stailey said, is to ultimately bring much of Goodwill's social enterprise such as warehousing, administration, retail program and mission services under one umbrella on the 11.5-acre site that Goodwill purchased in April 2021.

Construction is underway on phase one of the new opportunity campus and Goodwill officials said they hope to move into the Bonny Oaks site on Preservation Drive by April.

To help make the move more feasible, Stailey said Goodwill has supporters who plan to purchase the existing administration and workforce development building on Dodd's Avenue. A portion of the space will be leased back until Goodwill is ready to fully consolidate operations.

"While we have appreciated Goodwill in the past, as we have gotten to know the impressive team and understand the powerful new vision of this important organization, we couldn't be more excited to partner with them," said Todd Womack, a member of Good Will Partners LLC, an investment group purchasing the existing Goodwill building. "As Chattanooga continues to grow, the need for additional warehouse space is great and we look forward to those buildings continuing to be a good neighbor in the centrally located East Lake community and helping address the warehousing needs in our region."

Stailey said Good is ultimately likely to spend $5 million to $10 million to buy, upgrade and equip its new headquarters facility to house a more diverse array of services. But the nonprofit has structured the new facility to cost about the same as its existing facility.

"With more space, we will be able to meet people where they are, whatever their needs may be," he said. "With like-minded community partners, our goal is to create a synergy that allows Goodwill to provide services along with other agencies that can meet needs outside of our scope of work."

Goodwill has bounced back from 2020 when the nonprofit was forced to temporarily shut down its resale shops due to the pandemic and was forced to rebuild its top-selling store in East Brainerd after it was toppled by 2020's Easter tornadoes. Goodwill reopened its stores later in 2020 and last spring replaced its demolished East Brainerd Road location with a new job connection center along with the rebuilt store.

Gena Weldon, the CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Greater Chattanooga Area, said she was inspired to develop an opportunity campus by a visit to the Goodwill Opportunity Campus in Charlotte several years ago. There, community partners provide services for participants related to food and nutrition, healthcare, finance, education and legal services.

"This is an exciting and key point in time for Goodwill," Weldon said in an announcement about the building project. "The landscape has changed, so we're currently conducting a community needs assessment that will inform mission services. We want to be more strategic, collaborative and holistic in our approach to helping people reach their fullest potential. This new space puts us in the perfect position to be able to capitalize on opportunities that will benefit both the individuals and communities we serve."

Weldon said she continues to be inspired by the words of Edgar Helms who founded the Goodwill movement more than 120 years ago, when he said "Be dissatisfied with your work until every person in your community has an opportunity to develop to their fullest usefulness and enjoy a maximum of abundant living."

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or at 423-757-6340.

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