In the next couple of years, one of the largest properties in downtown Chattanooga is scheduled to open up for redevelopment after the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team relocates its stadium to the Southside.
The Hawk Hill site, where AT&T Field has been located for the past 23 years, will be reclaimed by the nonprofit downtown development company River City Co., which is seeking public input on how to reuse the site along Highway 27 near Ross's Landing. The downtown property includes 7.5 acres currently leased to the city's Sports Authority for the Lookouts Stadium and with additional parking lots has a total size of about 13 acres.
"While it is too early to identify the specific timing of the property transfer back to River City Co., we are beginning the process now to provide opportunities for the community and stakeholders to participate in the planning process," Emily Mack, River City president and CEO, said in an announcement of a new community survey planned for the property. "The planning process will include Hawk Hill, the adjacent riverfront parking lots and a parking lot behind the Creative Discovery Museum. While any redevelopment would most likely be phased over time, we believe it's important to look at this area holistically, rather than individual parcels."
River City has leased the site to the Lookouts since former team owner Frank Burke built the $10.2 million stadium and opened the baseball diamond in April 2000. Sitting along Highway 27 and overlooking both downtown and the Tennessee River, officials said the site could be redeveloped in a number of potential ways once the existing complex is removed.
River City, which bought the site for $2.5 million, transferred the property to the city for $200 when the Lookouts moved to Hawk Hill and will reclaim the site for $200 once the Lookouts relocate to their new stadium on the Southside.
The site was originally developed for the Kirkman Technical School, which operated from 1928 until it closed in 1991. The school's mascot was the Golden Hawks, and the hill where the football field was located was often referred to as Hawk Hill or Kirkman Hill.
The high school was at the base of the hill, along Chestnut Street, where the IMAX Theatre, Creative Discovery Museum, Marriott Residence Inn and Hilton Garden are today.
(READ MORE: Chattanooga Lookouts stadium groundbreaking likely to slide at least into late summer)
ANOTHER SCHOOL OR COURTHOUSE?
Hawk Hill could again be a site for a new downtown school. During his campaign to become Hamilton County mayor last year, Weston Wamp pledged to work to build a high-quality technical school near downtown similar to what Kirkman Technical High School once provided.
"We need a big, world-class, open-enrollment middle school and high school near downtown Chattanooga," Wamp said during his campaign last year.
The property could also be redeveloped as a site for a new federal courthouse in downtown Chattanooga. The U.S. General Services Administration, the federal agency that plans, designs and constructs new federal courthouses, is studying three downtown sites in Chattanooga this year to build a 186,000-square-foot courthouse building to replace the aging Joel Solomon Federal Building and house the U.S. District Court and Chattanooga Bankruptcy Court.
The General Services Administration is reviewing the Hawk Hill site along with a site a block away from the current federal courthouse along Georgia Avenue and another property offered by the Tennessee Valley Authority on part of its Chattanooga Office Complex. General Services is expected to issue its assessment in early 2024.
Congress has authorized $218 million to build the new federal courthouse in Chattanooga.
DOWNTOWN HOUSING DEMAND
River City has helped facilitate and support other downtown redevelopments, from the Majestic 12 theater to Miller Park to the Tennessee Riverpark. But the downtown agency has been focusing lately on spurring more residential and commercial development on the waterfront, which lost some of its luster during the pandemic and as more entertainment venues have grown on the Southside and Main Street area of downtown.
Last July, River City unveiled its One Riverfront Plan to help foster new development and more affordable housing options along and near the downtown waterfront in Chattanooga. Mack said the new study about the future of Hawk Hill will build on that waterfront plan.
The Hawk Hill site could be used to provide more affordable or market-rate rental units or condominiums to help supply Chattanooga's growing demand for housing. The One Riverfront Plan proposed building several multistory buildings on parking lots near the stadium.
Darren Meyer of the planning firm MKSK, which helped draft the riverfront plan, said in an earlier report the land around the stadium creates an opportunity for mixed-use affordable housing with commercial space on the ground floor, including for minority-owned businesses.
A new study on the downtown market commissioned by the River City Co. and conducted by RCLCO Real Estate Consulting said even with nearly 1,500 multifamily units under construction or planned to be built this year or next, there is still more demand for apartments and condos than will be available in the central city.
"The current development pipeline leaves significant demand unmet, especially in downtown," Erin Talkington, managing director for RCLCO, wrote in a 69-page assessment of future urban development prospects in Chattanooga. "There is a strong and immediate opportunity for new rental product, especially multifamily, to bring a variety of renters to downtown."
The study identified more than 1,700 rental apartment units under construction in the Chattanooga market and another 4,600 units that are planned or proposed. RCLCO projects even more demand than what is likely to be built.
"This pipeline (of new multifamily housing) is quite robust, and it suggests that 900 units could be delivered annually through 2030," Talkington said. "While this represents significantly more development on an annual basis than the primary market area has experienced in recent years, it does not exceed RCLCO forecasted annual demand for the new product."
To voice your opinion about what River City should do with Hawk Hill, take the survey at https://www.rivercitycompany.com/hawk-hill
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.