Chattanooga developer aims to restart St. Elmo project that could include new retail, residences, hotel

Staff Photo by Mike Pare / Developer Claudia Pullen, left, and project manager Rob Taylor, pictured Wednesday at an office on Broad Street, look over ideas for a St. Elmo development.

A proposal to build a mix of shops, residences, offices, a boutique hotel and parking is restarting in the heart of St. Elmo after a pandemic slowdown.

The updated version may turn out bigger than the original.

Called "transformational" by planners when unveiled in 2019, the project could now reach about $75 million when built out and spread over 3 to 4 acres in St. Elmo's commercial district, said Claudia Pullen, who is spearheading the potential development.

"We really want to see something we're proud of," Pullen said in an interview Wednesday.

Pullen, whose husband, Billy, operates Veterinary Care & Specialty Group nearby on Broad Street, said the St. Elmo property includes several parcels mostly between St. Elmo Avenue and Tennessee Avenue in front of the Food City. Among the tracts is the Tap Room Building, where her family runs a business, and a triangular parcel that holds the 1885 Grill.

She and her investor sisters have purchased another nearby plot of land where the Naughty Cat Cafe operates off Tennessee Avenue that she hopes to work into the proposal's master plan.

Project manager Rob Taylor said in March, Pullen is seeking access to a longtime alley between St. Elmo Avenue and Tennessee Avenue and to create an easement to replace a right of way.

That proposal, going before the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission and later the City Council, is the first step in moving the project ahead, he said in an interview.

"Having the ability to adjust the alley is key," Taylor said.

Pullen said plans could call for a multilevel building constructed over the alley. The alley then could hold a cafe, for example, which would draw people to the area, she said.

If the alleyway issue is resolved, Pullen said an updated design for the project then could be crafted. She said she wants Chattanooga-based Franklin Architects to work on that part of the plan.

"After approval, we'll cut people's creativity loose and let them do their magic," she said. Pullen said site work potentially could start in about a year.

The developer said one key part of the project would involve parking, and the site of a former SunTrust Bank building off Tennessee Avenue and West 38th Street could hold a multilevel garage. Also, she said, underground parking could go beneath one of the buildings off the planned reactivated alley.

Pullen said the developers "really want to make sure there's enough parking for everybody."

In addition, work would start on a feasibility study of the hotel near the garage, Pullen said.

Taylor said plans are to revisit the 2019 proposal as developers review a 2014 plan crafted by the city for St. Elmo.

He said momentum is moving toward St. Elmo from the adjacent South Broad District, where the new Chattanooga Lookouts ballpark is planned and seen as helping spur a slew of development on old foundry property.

Pullen said she's eager to move ahead with the St. Elmo development after the pandemic stalled work on the project.

"There's no point in waiting," Pullen said. "We want to see it."

The original proposal called for more than 100,000 square feet of retail, office and residential space. When public meetings were held for rezoning of the site in 2019, some nearby residents had raised questions about parking, traffic, congestion, building uses and other issues.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.