Engineer firm buys landmark Miller Bros. building

Engineer firm buys landmark Miller Bros. building

December 16th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

People walk in front of the Miller Bros. building on Market Street. BlueCross BlueShield is selling the building to Mesa engineering.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.


An engineering and construction management firm, Mesa was started in 1988 by Chandrashekhar "Shekhar" Savant, who had left his native Bombay, India, for the United States.

The Miller building in downtown Chattanooga was sold Thursday to an engineering company that will shift its local workers to the four-story structure and also try to put retail outlets back in the historic former department store.

BlueCross Blue Shield of Tennessee sold its last central city building at Market and Sixth streets to Mesa Associates Inc. for $5.5 million, records show.

The structure for decades had held Miller Bros. department store, which dates back to the late 1800s.

Late last decade, the building was put on the market with other BlueCross facilities after the Chattanooga-based insurer announced plans to raise a new $299 million home office on Cameron Hill, which opened in 2009.

Dan Jacobson, Blue-Cross' vice president of properties and corporate services, said the deal allows the company to realize its goal of consolidating its Chattanooga staff in a single corporate campus atop Cameron Hill.

"At the same time, it supports our intent to find a new business owner who will contribute to Chattanooga's thriving downtown business district," he said.

Ranjana Savant, owner and president of the Madison, Ala., engineering firm, said the company plans to shift its 180-member Chattanooga staff from leased space in the Volunteer building to the Miller building.

Mesa, which works with TVA and other companies in the power generation and distribution business, will occupy part of the second and third floors, she said.

TVA leases part of the second floor of the Miller building and will remain, Savant said.

Mesa officials are working with River City Co., the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group, to find shops or restaurants for the first floor. The building also allows Mesa room to grow as well as space to rent on the fourth floor, Savant said.

"We're really excited about having the historic building," she said. "We're really truly happy to be the carrier of the tradition."

The company had revenues of $42 million in 2008, according to Mesa.

Kim White, who heads River City, said she has talked with Mesa officials about ground-floor retailers and "they got excited about transforming a portion of the building to its historical roots."

"They hadn't thought about retail much," she said. "Retail creates more value than office on the first floor."

David DeVaney of NAI Charter Real Estate, who represented BlueCross, said the building is "a great fit" for Mesa.

"It's a benefit for Chattanooga to have a user buy the building that will renovate the interior and put employees down there," he said. "It will continue to have heavy foot traffic."

DeVaney said Mesa also obtained the parking rights to a garage at Broad and Chestnut streets owned by BlueCross. Mesa employees can use an underground tunnel that goes from the garage to the Miller building, he said.

DeVaney said Mesa plans to continue the tradition of decorating the Miller building's ground-floor windows for Christmas.

BlueCross had about 400 employees in the building, who have moved to Cameron Hill.

Mary Danielson, the health insurer's director or corporate communications, said the company renovated the building after it purchased it in 1986. She didn't know the renovation cost.

BlueCross paid $1.16 million for the property from ASC Stores III Inc., records show. In 1987, the building was placed on National Register of Historic Places.