TVA eyes redevelopment of downtown site as office needs shrink

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / The TVA Office Complex is seen Tuesday.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / The TVA Office Complex is seen Tuesday.

Nearly four decades after erecting Chattanooga's biggest office complex to consolidate its power headquarters and operations, the Tennessee Valley Authority said it no longer needs as much office space and is studying whether it should demolish, sell or revamp at least part of its 1.4 million-square-foot office complex that spreads across more than 8 acres of downtown Chattanooga.

TVA officials said the utility has received offers from several developers to build or lease a smaller office complex in and around downtown Chattanooga, and the federal utility has offered its downtown property as a site for a new federal courthouse planned for the city. TVA also is soliciting public comments for the next two weeks about what it should do with its Chattanooga Office Complex.

A public forum TVA held Tuesday at Miller Plaza to talk with members of the public and solicit comments drew fewer than two dozen visitors, many of whom said they hope TVA does what is best for the utility and for downtown Chattanooga.

Judy Hanks, whose father was a 40-year employee of TVA and was among the thousands of TVA workers who did their jobs in the office complex, said Chattanooga's central city is losing many of the downtown workers it once had even as the city attracts more tourists and residents.

"With how much office space is used downtown, it seems to be really quiet during the day," Hanks said while submitting her comments about TVA's future office plans. "Our tourism seems to be healthy. I'm not sure about the downtown workforce."

Since TVA built its office complex in the mid-1980s, the utility has trimmed its full-time workforce from more than 50,000 workers when it was still planning to build 17 nuclear reactors to about 10,000 employees today after TVA scrapped plans to build most of those nuclear units. The number of workers assigned to the office complex has nearly shrunk in half, and TVA property managers said the utility needs less than half as much space as what it has in Chattanooga.

(READ MORE: TVA studies options to shrink Chattanooga office)

Alix Thornhill, a Chattanooga resident and treasurer for the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said she is pleased TVA is not simply abandoning its downtown office campus as it responds to the change its workforce needs. During an interview during Tuesday's forum at Miller Plaza, Thornhill said she hopes TVA will refurbish and use at least two of the four buildings in the complex and redevelop the rest of its property for other uses.

In her urban public policy studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga nearly a decade ago, Thornhill said she discovered Chattanooga had 55% more abandoned buildings than the U.S. average. Such structures need to be adapted for other uses, Thornhill said.

Worker shift out of downtown

Other major employers in downtown Chattanooga are also reducing downtown staffs by shifting more workers to remote or hybrid schedules. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has moved 88% of the more than 4,000 employees who previously worked at the company's headquarters on Cameron Hill downtown to work from home. Unum Corp. has shifted most of its 2,800 employees in Chattanooga to work only three days a week in the office.

In response, Emily Mack, president of the River City Co., said downtown office buildings are being revamped into apartments and condominiums at locations such as the Maclellan building, the Loveman's building and the First Horizon tower.

"As TVA considers the future of their campus with the multiple options presented at the public input session, we, like other cities across the country, have the opportunity to continue to shift from a 'central business district' into a 'central connectivity district' with vibrancy and activity hosted at many hours of the day, not just during a typical work week," Mack said in a statement Wednesday. "The TVA campus is a large site that may be able to support other projects that have been presented to the community, including the possible new federal courthouse and expansion of the convention center."

Mack said the River City Co., a nonprofit agency that promotes downtown Chattanooga, favors redevelopment "that can help us to continue to create a vibrant and welcoming downtown for all."

According to a recent study for River City by RCLCO Real Estate Consultants, the TVA office complex alone comprises more than 13% of the 9.84 million square feet of office space in downtown Chattanooga.

Federal courthouse site

To redevelop its downtown property, TVA is offering the campus as a possible site for a new federal courthouse in Chattanooga. The General Services Administration, the federal agency responsible for building and maintaining federal buildings, is considering three downtown sites in Chattanooga to build a $200 million-plus courthouse building to replace the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and Courthouse, which was erected in 1932 and no longer meets security and accessibility standards for such buildings. The federal agency is expected to pick one of the thee sites next month.

A recent study of Chattanooga's 39-year-old trade and convention center near the TVA office complex also recommended the TVA site could be used to add another needed hotel and bigger ballroom to serve the growing convention market.

Tricia Lynn Roelofs, senior director of facilities transformation at TVA, said a final recommendation will be made for the future of TVA's office complex by June after TVA reviews public comments that may be submitted until April 10 online at or by email to

Roelofs said TVA received multiple offers in response to its request for a smaller replacement office facility within 2 miles of its downtown site. But she said information about those proposals is privileged and will not be disclosed.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

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