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An architect's rendering of a proposed multimodal transportation center on the site of U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry on Chattanooga's Southside.
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An architect's rendering of a multimodal transportation center one of the proposed sites downtown: Carter Distributing Co., a longtime beer wholesaler at 1305 Broad St.

CARTA’s goals for a multimodal transportation center

Increased ridership

Decreased congestion and vehicle miles traveled

Reduced emissions

Better connection to neighborhoods

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This is an architect's rendering of a multimodal transportation center on a study's highest-rated proposed site, vacant land at 1300 Market St.

If Chattanooga needs a place to plant the first spike for its proposed commuter train system, Mike Mallen says he's got the perfect location: A gateway property on Chattanooga's Southside that for decades was home to U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry.

"Some part of the city is going to have to be first," said Mallen, one of the partners in Perimeter Properties, the lead developer of the 141-acre former industrial site at 2516 Chestnut St. "For many reasons, I think our site is the ideal place for the city to put a stake in the ground."

The U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry property is one of three sites with rail access identified in a January report as the potential home for a new multimodal transportation center under study by the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority (CARTA), which operates the city's bus system.

CARTA hopes the transportation center would be a one-stop shop where passengers could do everything from catch a bus to rent a bicycle — or ride a commuter train that the city is investigating as a separate project. The plan calls for building a new transit center — either a brand-new building or, in the case of the U.S. Pipe site, the reuse of the vacant pipe-manufacturing building on Chestnut Street.

There's no hard-and-fast date for the multimodal transportation center to open — because CARTA needs to find funding for it. And CARTA is still eyeing at least one more potential site, said agency Executive Director Lisa Maragnano.

But this is a good time to get the conversation going, said Mallen, an attorney for the high-profile downtown firm Miller & Martin and a board member of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority.

"It's being talked about by our political leadership," Mallen said. "There's obviously a need for it. Traffic is stacked up and parking is almost nonexistent at peak times. As someone who's lived here his whole life, I believe that commuter rail is going to become a necessity.

Other sites are downtown

The other finalist sites are Carter Distributing Co., a longtime beer wholesaler at 1305 Broad St. along with vacant property at 1300 Market St. next to Shuttle Park South, CARTA's large parking structure just north of the Choo Choo Hotel.

They're closer to downtown, and they got higher scores than U.S. Pipe, which got 75 points out of 100 in the study's "site evaluation matrix" that looked at such factors as location, land cost and visibility. The study rated the Carter Distributing site at 96.5 and the Market Street vacant lot at 97.5.

But Carter Distributing doesn't want to be in the running.

"We are not interested in moving at this time," said the family-owned business' President and CEO Blair Carter in an email.

Market Street site's central location has pluses, wrote the study's authors, the Knoxville, Tenn.- based architecture and interior design firm, McCarty Holsaple McCarty, Inc.

"[The Market Street site] is in the heart of downtown Chattanooga with excellent pedestrian connectivity to employment centers and the Southside entertainment district," the study says. "The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus is less than four blocks away."

'Getting there difficult'

But the study also found things to like about the U.S. Pipe Wheland Foundry property.

"This location currently provides less direct pedestrian connectivity, but the site holds great potential for future development," the authors wrote. "With direct rail, interstate highway, and even river access, this site serves a range of transportation choices."

There's one potential drawback for the U.S. Pipe site, said Peter Haliburton, a principal at Cambridge Systematics, Inc., which is helping the city explore commuter rail options.

The city is leaning toward a heavy rail car commuter train that would share existing railroads with freight trains. It would be easier for heavy railcars to get to Market Street, he said, than to U.S. Pipe's Chestnut Street location.

"It's nice to know that U.S. Pipe folks are that interested," Haliburton said. "But probably getting to there is difficult."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.

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