The Chattanooga development firm Rise Partners has purchased one of the last undeveloped blocks in downtown Chattanooga. The block has been used as a parking lot since the Civic Forum building was torn down on the site nearly two decades ago.
Matt Phillips, president of Rise Partners, whose offices in the nearby Volunteer Building overlook the parking lot now on the site, said the new owners are studying options for the property to serve the downtown area. Through a real estate partnership created as Rv Market LLC, Rise Partners paid $2.18 million last month to Republic Parking Systems to buy the site, which is bounded by Market, Broad, 10th and 11th streets.
The block is sandwiched between the TVA Chattanooga office complex, the Chattanooga Public Library and EPB's headquarters.
"We are working closely with our chairman, former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, on the site," Phillips said in a statement Wednesday. "Conceptual studies are underway, and we want to ensure that anything we might do would fundamentally enhance the central business district of our downtown."
For now, Phillips said the lot will remain a surface parking lot while future options are studied.
Chattanooga firm buys downtown block
The site once housed the Civic Forum as the home of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Chattanooga Chamber Foundation, the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association, the Industrial Committee of 100 and the Greater Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber Foundation sold the site 20 years ago and relocated the Chamber to its current location on Broad Street.
For much of the first half of the 20th century, the downtown block housed Harry's Steak House operated by Greek immigrant Harry Koskos.
After the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups vacated the property in 2003, the site was eyed as a potential location for everything from a new federal courthouse to a high-tech office building. But ultimately, the property has been used as a rented surface parking lot operated by Republic Parking Systems for nearly two decades.
In 2011, as part of River City Co.'s Urban Design Challenge, a design team proposed a "search engine" digital gathering spot on the block with a proposed five-story building and a four-story tower connected by raised walkways. There was also a second-story roof garden.
The site was also once considered for a new federal courthouse to replace the aging Joel Solomon building erected in 1932.
The U.S. General Services Administration, which is now studying three other downtown sites for a new courthouse building, determined that it needed at least 2 to 7 acres of land for the new courthouse to allow for underground, secured entry by prisoners and others in any new structure. While the former Civic Forum site is too small for the proposed $180 million courthouse, the General Services Administration is now looking at using part of the TVA office complex just to the south of the Civic Forum site, along with other potential locations on Hawk Hill where the Chattanooga Lookouts baseball stadium is now housed or a site along Houston Street north of M.L. King Boulevard.
Corker, who served as Chattanooga's mayor from 2001 to 2005 and as one of Tennessee's U.S. Senators from 2007 to 2019, previously worked as a builder and developer in his hometown of Chattanooga. Since retiring from the Senate, Corker has been a lead investor and chairman of Rise Partners, a regional commercial real estate firm that operates across 10 states.
Corker began developing, owning and operating office buildings in downtown Chattanooga in 1988, when he led the transformation of the former Sears shopping center into what is known today as Market Court. Rise Partners is headquartered in the Volunteer Building, a property Corker acquired in 1997 and has since fully renovated the 11-story building at M.L. King Boulevard and Georgia Avenue.