$200 million East Ridge project will benefit from state, county funds

$6 million, including $5 million from state, approved for public infrastructure

Millions of dollars in state funds, coupled with $1 million from Hamilton County OK'd on Wednesday, will provide a kick for the next stage of a $200 million East Ridge project, officials said.

Some $5 million in state money, along with the funds approved by the County Commission, will spur infrastructure work on the Chattanooga Red Wolves owner's development and on East Ridge roads leading to the site, they said.

East Ridge Mayor Brian Williams said he's happy with the state money the city received even though it requested $13 million.

"We're excited with the next phase," Williams said in a phone interview about work at the huge proposed residential and commercial development at Interstates 75 and 24.

The first of 144 luxury townhouses are starting to go up, and the addition of more seating for the professional soccer club's stadium is planned, he said.

Bob Martino, the soccer club's owner and the project developer, said he, too, is pleased with the funding. Martino said the aim is to use the funds for public-type improvements such as streets, sidewalks, lighting, parking, water and sewer.

"It's greatly appreciated," he said in a phone interview, citing Gov. Bill Lee, the legislature and East Ridge and county officials for the money.

Martino said work has started on the third townhouse building, each of which has four units, at the 110-acre tract for the project he's calling The Gateway.

"We're real excited about that, the new residential properties," he said.

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

"It's full steam ahead on this stuff," he said. "We have a lot of things we're working on. We're not letting it out there until we pull permits."

The public money for the project comes in contrast to no direct appropriation by the legislature for a proposed new $86.5 million Chattanooga Lookouts multiuse stadium.

Stadium proponents had sought $20.8 million from the state, $13.5 million in a direct grant and $7.3 million for environmental cleanup of the proposed site on former foundry property in Chattanooga's South Broad District.

But the legislature allowed a sales tax deal whereby the city can keep the first 5.5% of the state's 7% tax for sales at the stadium.

Williams said plans are to do work at the entrances to the Red Wolves stadium site from both Ringgold Road near Cracker Barrel and Spring Creek Road near Parkridge East Hospital.

He said the county earlier partnered with East Ridge for both Camp Jordan Parkway just opposite I-24 and the Exit One work.

Martino said a lot of site work already was performed at his sprawling parcel, and now public improvements will come that will permit more development.

While the needed infrastructure work is "much greater" than $5 million, the money will help, he said.

"A lot of good will come of it," the developer said.

Martino said he believes the legislature saw that he was putting his money into the project.

"We put our money in first to show our commitment to the community and the state," he said, He said state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and state Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, understood "how we led the way with our investments."

The Gateway is pegged as East Ridge's biggest-ever commercial project and has grown to about $200 million, up from $125 million when it was originally proposed three 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 CHI Memorial Stadium.

Martino said that on his site, his group will do the infrastructure work and then seek reimbursement from East Ridge. Officials said Martino's project can't receive reimbursement from both the state money and the Border Region incentive for the same work.

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

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