Historic John Ross Building gets extreme makeover in downtown Chattanooga

$7 million project to hold new headquarters for Steam Logistics

Staff photo by Mike Pare / The John Ross Building in downtown Chattanooga, seen here on Thursday, March 24, 2022, is undergoing a large-scale renovation to become the new headquarters for logistics company Steam Logistics.

The remake of a century-old building in downtown Chattanooga into the future home of a rapidly growing logistics company will signal a change to a key gateway into the center city, an official said Thursday.

The high-profile, largely windowless John Ross Building at Broad and Fourth streets will house Steam Logistics when a $7 million makeover is finished late this year and turns the structure into a showplace for the city, said Todd Kimling, a project manager for Noon Development.

"The building had been vacant for so long and been an eyesore," he said during a tour of the site that's undergoing the refurbishing. "This will bring it back to life."

Cutouts in the concrete block exterior are already showing up to hold an array of massive picture windows in the 4-story, 60,000-square-foot building that was raised around 1920 to service a then-downtown auto dealership.

An interior ramp to take the autos from the ground floor to the second level still is inside the building, but it will be jack-hammered away to make room for Steam employees, Kimling said.

"Partnering with Steam is very important to our company," he said.

Jason Provonsha, Steam's chief executive, said in an earlier interview in the Noon Development offices that he liked the city's plans to renew the riverfront area downtown from Fourth Street to the Tennessee River, a footprint that includes the company's new headquarters.

Steam is creating 400 jobs in the expansion into the historic building downtown by the logistics company founded in 2012.

"We're growing at a fast clip," he said in an interview, adding that Steam has seen revenues climb by about 1,000% since 2019.

Steam, which now employs many of its 345 people in the building next door, expanded into the U.S. logistics market last April after a noncompete clause ended for the company. Previously, Steam Logistics had served just the international sector, Provonsha said.

photo Staff photo by Mike Pare / Todd Kimling, a project manager for Noon Development, stands inside the John Ross Building, where a $7 million revamp is underway of the historic building in downtown Chattanooga, on Thursday, March 24, 2022.

Kimling said the vast renovation of the building designed by Franklin Architects started with the removal of asbestos and lead paint. Rather than encapsulate harmful materials with paint, the decision was made to rid them entirely so employees of its future tenant will know the building is free of the contaminants, he said.

The site of a former oversized freight elevator will hold a new one transporting logistics company workers, Kimling said. A mechanics shop that supported the former dealership where work was done on old cars was demolished, he said.

Soon, Kimling said, employees of contractor GenTech Construction will begin the interior remake to house large, open-space offices for Steam.

On the ground floor, plans are to bring in a shipping container in a nod to the logistics business that will be modified to serve as a reception desk, he said. The first and second floors will feature high ceilings, Kimling said.

The roof of the building will hold space for employees to enjoy the outdoors and views of the riverfront and surrounding downtown, the project manager said.

When the revamp ramps up even more later this year, from 30 to 40 workmen will be on the site, Kimling said.

"This is a key project for us," he said.

According to the state, the location held a general store from at least 1885 to 1893.

The current building was raised about 1920 and used as an auto sales and service center until 1975. The block initially held a Buick dealership. Later, the site became Newton Chevrolet, which eventually moved to Riverfront Parkway and West M.L. King Boulevard.

Still later, the structure was used by TVA and Unum for document and furniture storage until left vacant since 2007.

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