Retail growth debated in Hixson

Retail growth debated in Hixson

May 6th, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Developer Duane Horton presents his plan March 12 for the shopping and residential development on the north end of Highway 153.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you support the Hixson development project?

Hixson development

Hixson development

Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

The developer of a proposed 190-acre Hixson project said it would bring hundreds of residents and thousands of shoppers to the northern limits of Chattanooga.

But some city leaders are wary about adding more competition for existing retailers.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd represents Hixson and is worried the development could hurt established businesses such as Northgate Mall, which sits fewer than four miles south of the proposed site.

"We don't want them competing with each other. We want Northgate to be highly successful," she said. "We don't want to give them competition."

But Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Co., said his project meets nearly all of the goals the community set out in its Hixson North River Community Plan. That plan calls for concentrated commercial development, which the plan says will "feed new life into suburban strips."

"The best advocate I have is the plan that was put together by the community itself," Horton said.

The Chattanooga City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to greenlight the project. City planners recommended last month the project be shot down.

On Saturday, opponents of the proposed project gathered at the Greenway Farm to collect signatures on a petition to present to the council on Tuesday.

Business owners from the proposed development site at the intersection of Highway 153 and U.S. Highway 27 down to Northgate Mall are unsure what to think of the project. The recently developed plaza with Academy Sports and Kohl's has empty land just waiting to be developed, but retailers looking to build are scarce.

That leaves Oscar Brock, the property's manager, struggling with whether to cheer the plan or oppose it.

"Growth creates growth. It's a virtuous cycle, and that's good," he said. "At the same time, we're mid-cycle. We're in the middle of trying to fill up our shopping center."

Brock isn't alone. On Highway 153, the shopping center anchored by Walmart has 46,000 square feet of unused space, the Target-anchored center has 4,000 square feet of empty stores, and Northgate Mall has nearly a quarter of its space empty.


The Chattanooga City Council is slated to decide whether the land needed for a proposed 190-acre development will be rezoned to accommodate the residential, office and retail project tonight at 6 p.m. City planners recommended against the rezoning last month.


Anyone with comments on the proposed 190-acre mixed-use development near the intersections of Highways 153 and 27 may email

Clint Wolford, vice president of Wolford Development, is struggling to find retailers to fill several thousand vacant square feet in both the Target- and Walmart-anchored plazas. He said the proposed development would be great for the area if it were thriving, but now is not the time for such a large-scale development.

"It's not needed. Not now, not in this economy," he said. "I can't understand who in the world they could possibly lease to that's not being talked to by the other developers."

But Horton's project isn't all speculative, and it isn't all retail. More than half the project would be dedicated to apartments, offices and public spaces. He said he has two letters of intent and even more interest from property managers to develop 240 apartments, and he has heard plenty of interest from companies looking for a large office campus in the area.

The project hasn't received financing, but Horton said it's on the right track to do so pending city approval.

"We don't see any issue going forward," he said.

Horton expects retail will be phased in last, with only convenience retailers such as a grocer going into the site in the beginning.

Keith Weaver owns the primary care practice Compassion Health Care near the development site. He saw his client base triple after the Academy Sports opened up down the road, and hopes he'd see a similar patient boost if Horton's site is developed.

On the flip side, he's worried the thousands of extra cars on the road will deter patients from making the trip to his office if the plan goes through.

"It's going to change a huge aspect of where we live," he said. "Our day-to-day life is going to be different."

Contact Carey O'Neil at or 423-757-6525. Follow him at