Editor's note: This story was updated with more information on Oct. 27.
The refurbished hotel at the Chattanooga Choo Choo will open as The Hotel Chalet on Tuesday, and a new Elsie's Daughter restaurant will open at the hotel three days later as Chattanooga's historic former railroad depot continues to evolve under new owners.
Jake Lamstein, founder and owner of the Chicago-based Trestle Studio, which acquired the hotel and most of the passenger rail cars at the Choo Choo last year, said he expects the $19 million renovation project done over the past year and a half will help usher in a new era of destination travel and reinvigorate the Choo Choo.
"We're really proud of the level of the work that we have done to restore the beautiful, original Pullman train cars and the surrounding properties to their former glory," Lamstein said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.
The Chattanooga construction firm TuckerBuild has helped remodel the 102 hotel rooms built in the 1970s with new furnishings and fixtures and refurbish 25 of the historic sleeping rail cars, each with a touch of art nouveau styling, Lamstein said. A procession of indoor and outdoor gathering spaces will embrace the European influence of the newly remodeled Choo Choo gardens, including the hotel's courtyard that will add a new stage for entertainment along with fire pits and a pool.
Lamstein said he is adding 10,000 square feet of lawn, a stage and a new landscaping plan for 2 acres of the gardens in the center of the Choo Choo complex, where the 14 railroad tracks and seven platforms previously served millions of rail passengers for more than 60 years before passenger train service ended in Chattanooga in 1970.
The standard king rooms in the renovated hotel will rent from $250 or more a night, and the train car rooms will start at around $350 a night, Lamstein said.
"These have really been restored to some of the most beautiful train cars on rails," he said.
Lamstein said The Hotel Chalet name reflects the history of early railroad passenger travel when many railroads developed chalets and lodges to encourage people to ride their rail lines and explore nature.
"We think that parallels what we see now in Chattanooga -- a city that many people want to come to and explore to get out into nature and experience the culture in a unique type of journey," Lamstein said. "I have been very impressed with Chattanooga, which punches way above its weight class in culture, food and outdoor attractions."
Lamstein, who started Trestle Studio last year to pursue historic renovation projects such as the Chattanooga Choo Choo, said his company is working with the owners of the adjacent terminal building, which was erected in 1909 and served as an entryway to Chattanooga for rail passengers for nearly a century.
Another Chicago-based real estate developer, Northpond Partners, acquired the historic rail station terminal at the Chattanooga Choo Choo in 2021 as the home of such restaurants and bars as Stir, Nic & Norman's and the Frothy Monkey along with entertainment venues like The Comedy Catch and the Songbirds Guitar & Pop Culture Museum.
"Our vision for the Chattanooga Choo Choo, including the iconic sign, is to create a space that can be enjoyed for generations to come," Jeff Merriam, a vice president of investments at Northpond Partners LLC, said in a statement.
Songbirds plans to move out of the Choo Choo in December, relocating to another nearby site on West Main Street. The former Blue Light bar and lounge on Station Street closed its storefront in the terminal building in August. North Pond officials said they are working to find new tenants along Station Street as the Choo Choo grows into a Southside entertainment complex appealing to both residents and visitors.
Merriam said North Pond has signed leases and is negotiating leases with several tenants, which he said will be announced shortly.
"The overarching goal is to compliment the existing tenant mix and make it an 18 hour a day, seven days a week destination," Merriam said in an email statement. "The history, architecture of the building and importance in the community combined with the location in a dynamic neighborhood like the Southside in a market like Chattanooga make this a project of a lifetime."
The Signal, a concert and entertainment venue, relocated into the Choo Choo's convention hall in May. On Nov. 3, the owners of The Rosecomb in Chattanooga -- Chloe Wright and Ryan Smith -- will open their new Elsie's Daughter restaurant featuring a fusion of French cuisine and Appalachian fare.
Lamstein said he is working with The Signal, North Pond and former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey and his son, Adam, who led an investment group that bought the then-bankrupt Choo Choo hotel complex in 1989, on the overall Choo Choo complex. Kinsey acquired the Choo Choo in 1989 after the original developer of the hotel complex, B. Allen Casey, filed for bankruptcy.
Adam Kinsey said he has worked over the past three decades to give the property its third life after the original train station was converted into a major hotel complex and then later became an entertainment, apartment, restaurant and hotel campus for both locals and visitors to enjoy.
"The Southside and Main Street area is the most energetic part of the entire city, so it was important to tap into that," Kinsey said in a description of his efforts to revamp the Choo Choo. "We took one 25-acre parcel and divided it into 10 different parcels, each focused on a specific use, and either redeveloped parcels ourselves or sold it off to whom we felt was best suited for our overall vision.
"Trestle has knocked it out of the park" with its hotel renovation, Kinsey said
Lamstein said The Hotel Chalet opening and the new Choo Choo gardens will be especially appealing during the upcoming holiday season. Although the Choo Choo is not offering the ice skating rink on the property that it once did during the winter season, the Choo Choo will unveil the largest indoor Christmas tree in Chattanooga during the second week of November, Lamstein said.
Santa Claus will arrive in the terminal dome Nov. 24 for photos and to listen to children's Christmas wishes, Lamstein said. Local artist Gaz Gazzola, owner, designer and scenic fabricator of Never a Dull Moment Events, is partnering with Dmitriy Yakovenko to build a winter-themed art installation in the gardens beginning mid-November.
The Choo Choo also is partnering with Bitter Alibi to offer "12 Nights of Christmas on Station Street" with themed events, games and drinks for the 12 days of Christmas, beginning Dec. 20 and concluding with a New Year's Eve bash. During December, a "Polar Express" themed train car will offer a cozy spot filled with draft and seasonal beverages for all ages, Lamstein said.