Updated at 6:31 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, with more information.
“Chattanooga no longer needs to accept mediocrity.”
Longtime Mt. Vernon Restaurant owners Jeff and Cindy Messinger looked for eight years at uses for their South Broad Street site that included the eatery before it closed in 2017.
On Wednesday, the redevelopment of the 4-acre tract at St. Elmo Avenue took a big step forward as a Chattanooga zoning panel endorsed a plan that includes a new Publix supermarket.
"Out of all the potential developments and potential end-users we met with and negotiated with and considered, Publix is definitely the best," said Chattanooga real estate broker Jack Webb, who represented the Messingers.
The Chattanooga Board of Zoning Appeals voted 6-0 for a waiver for the project related to parking and access to enable the 32,000-square-foot store to move ahead, barring any technical problem with the city.
During a nearly hour-long meeting, no one spoke against the project while more than 60 people raised their hands when asked who supported the proposed center, which first emerged about a year ago.
A new compromise agreement by the city and the store's developer shifted the supermarket more toward South Broad and put small retail space against the street. Th changes appeared to ease concerns by some people who wanted an urban feel to the project.
The new layout is similar to the company's North Market Street unit, but also will include the developer building a section of the Tennessee Riverwalk through the property, along with landscaping on South Broad.
George Chase of the development group Alliance Realty Services said a lot of people worked to come up with "a fantastic site plan." He said the plan meets the intent of Urban General Commercial zoning and is walkable and bike-able.
Chase declined comment after the meeting. It's not known when store construction may start.
Jim Johnson, a community activist who took part in the latest discussions which led to the compromise, said the zoning panel's decision is "the correct outcome."
"Chattanooga no longer needs to accept mediocrity," he said. "The process we took was the right one."
Longtime South Broad property owner Ann Weeks said the project is a catalyst for the area because of the caliber of the store.
"It will bring in like-minded quality businesses," she said. "It's going to create job opportunities for the whole area."
City Councilman Erskine Oglesby said that while the process has been "tenuous" at times, the center will be an economic engine.
"I'm really excited about this project," he said.
Late last year, some supporters for the Publix feared the project might be in jeopardy after the tenant said it was considering other options.
Last November, despite pleas from a city councilman and former Hamilton County commissioner, the Board of Zoning Appeals refused the developer's then-plan for the store by a 5-4 vote. In December, the panel voted to re-hear the case, and the developer delayed going back until Wednesday.
Garnet Chapin, president the Cravens Terrace/South Broad Community Association, said the large majority of that group is in favor of the center.
"You've got a good plan," he told the zoning board.
John Dodd, who lives on downtown's Southside, said a Publix will be "a great addition to the neighborhood" and he didn't think the project should be "hung up" over a zoning issue related to access to South Broad.
"I'd never cycle on South Broad," he said. "It's a very hostile street to cycle on."
Publix operates five other units in metro Chattanooga.
The Mt. Vernon had operated at the foot of Lookout Mountain for 63 years before it closed its doors around Christmas of 2017.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.