Chattanooga Housing Authority picks Atlanta firm as master developer for Westside

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Aubrey Henriksen, left, hula-hoops with Ken'zhia Phillips, 9, right, as part of the "Park Spark" event in 2021 at the Sheila M. Jennings Westside Park. The Chattanooga Housing Authority's plans to update and improve the Westside took another step forward Tuesday with the selection of Atlanta-based Columbia Residential to be the master developer.

An Atlanta real estate firm that has already developed more than $1 billion of mixed-income residential and senior housing projects across the Southeast has been chosen to serve as the master developer for Chattanooga's Westside.

The Chattanooga Housing Authority board Tuesday voted to begin negotiations with Columbia Residential to develop plans for the Westside Evolves project at the authority's College Hill Courts housing project and surrounding properties.

"The team assembled by Columbia Residential has a depth of experience in the area of public housing that will well-position the Chattanooga Housing Authority for success in the Westside," Adam Kinsey, president of the Chattanooga Choo Choo and an authority commissioner, said in a statement Tuesday. "We know that the work ahead will be challenging; however, we have the best team in place to build a diverse neighborhood that will serve us well into the future."

During its 32-year history, Columbia Residential has developed more than 10,000 apartment and condominium units and has previously worked with housing agencies and builders on a variety of multifamily, tax credit and mixed-finance homes. Approximately 25% are senior-only rental units.

The firm was selected from a national request for proposals, which attracted five applicants, housing authority spokeswoman Robin Derryberry said by phone. Two months were spent reviewing the information before three finalists were selected for in-person interviews. Columbia Residential was the unanimous decision of the board, Derryberry said.

"The board knew that we needed to be aware of the rich history of the Westside, sensitive to resident priorities and efficient in the use of the funds we're given to meet community needs," Kinsey said. "This team allows us to meet all of these goals, and we're excited to go to work."

The housing authority, the city of Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Design Studio are developing plans to renovate the former James A. Henry School and revamp the 429-unit College Hill Courts, the 132-unit Gateway Towers and the Sheila Jennings community park at what was once Chattanooga's biggest public housing project. The Westside plan also calls for the administrative offices of the city's Department of Youth and Family Development at 510 W. 12th St. to be relocated and the site converted to mixed-use housing and open spaces.

The housing authority estimated four years ago that bringing up College Hill Courts to today's federal Department of Housing and Urban Development standards in its current design would cost $63.2 million, and up to $94 million was needed to make all of the needed repairs along with other supportive infrastructure in the community. That cost has likely risen since those estimates were prepared, housing authority Executive Director Betsy McCright said previously.

The housing authority is hoping to enhance the entire Westside community and add more mixed-use housing and commercial development with the aid of private, nonprofit and federal dollars.

The housing authority plans to seek a Choice Neighborhoods grant from HUD to help pay for part of the project costs. Choice Neighborhood grants provide up to $35 million of flexible funding to a community that provides matching investments that help transform low-income or distressed neighborhoods into mixed-income communities.

Founded by Noel Khalil in 1991, Columbia Residential has worked on similar large-scale redevelopments in the past. The company employs more than 360 individuals and provides master planning, development, project management, construction management, property management and resident services to its clients.

At present, Columbia has seven properties under construction totaling 938 units. In addition, its has five properties totaling 635 units that are expected to close this year.

The firm is partnering with the design team of Tennessee-based Smith Gee Studio, Tinker Ma architects, RaganSmith engineering, Erika Roberts and the law firm of HunterMaclean on the project.

— Compiled by Dave Flessner