First they gutted it. Now they're putting it back together.
The renovation of the long-vacant Fleetwood Coffee building in downtown Chattanooga is about halfway through, said Gerald McCormick, a principal with McCormick and Co. Real Estate, who's leasing the office space and apartments under construction there.
Work began in January, when a demolition crew started to gut the five-story, brick-and-wood building at 11th and King streets. Workers removed the hardwood floors on every level, which had rotted because the roof leaked for years, as well as old coffee-roasting equipment.
When the demolition crew finished, all that was left inside the brick building were wood columns and beams.
"It looked like toothpicks. Very heavy toothpicks," said construction Superintendent Mike Conner of Chattanooga-based T.U. Parks Construction Co.
The columns are basically tree trunks logged from virgin forests. Craftsmen squared the timbers by hand, Conner said.
"All of this was by hand; they didn't have Skilsaws," he said.
The timber columns are thicker in the bottom of the building and get thinner at the top. So do the Fleetwood's load-bearing brick walls. They are 32 inches thick at the base of the circa 1903 building, Conner said, and 18 inches thick at the top. That's how multi-story brick buildings were built before the advent of the steel framing that allowed skyscrapers to soar.
After the building was gutted, T.U. Parks Construction Co. crews laid yellow pine, tongue-and-groove flooring on every level.
Two rectangular holes remain on each floor, showing wood beams. That where concrete block-walled stairwells will go. The old building's existing elevator shaft will house a new elevator.
The top three floors will have about 30 loft-style apartments, while offices will go in the first two floors and basement, McCormick said. Both apartments and offices will have high ceilings and exposed brick walls. All told, about 45,000 square feet will be renovated.
Apartments will range in size from 700-square-foot studios to 1,200-foot, multi-bedroom units, McCormick said. They should cost between $1,000 and $1,500 to rent per month, he said.
Two-by-four stick framing has been erected for apartment walls. The Fleetwood Coffee building still needs electrical, plumbing and sprinkling systems installed.
It cost $3.5 million to buy the building. McCormick declined to say how much the renovation will cost.
The renovation is a project of Noon Development, McCormick said, whose primary owner is John Foy, a developer and venture capitalist. Foy retired as chief financial officer for CBL & Associates Properties Inc., the Chattanooga-based, publicly-traded owner of shopping malls where Foy worked for 44 years.
National housing consultant Robert Charles Lesser Co. did a 2014 study that indicates there's a shortage of more than 3,000 residential units downtown.
"There's a shortage of housing downtown," McCormick said. "People love to be downtown in older buildings with brick walls. I think they like the idea of being in a historic building."
There's room for more apartments, he thinks, even with several old downtown buildings proposed to be converted to apartments, such as the MacLellan Building, a Beaux Arts skyscraper on Broad Street. New apartments are being built, including the 10-story tower proposed in the empty lot at 700 Market St. next to the Sun Trust building that will hold 125 apartments, office and retail.
The downtown apartment market isn't saturated, McCormick said.
"I don't think we're anywhere near that point in Chattanooga," he said.
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