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The historic Read House hotel is located on MLK Boulevard in between Broad and Chestnut Streets in downtown Chattanooga.

CLARIFICATION: This article was changed on May 25 to indicate that mobile pay and cold-brewed, nitrogen-infused coffee aren't yet available at the Read House Starbucks — though the coffeehouse is set up to offer those things in the future. Also, the $9.9 million sales price of the Read House recorded by the Hamilton County Register of Deeds office differs from the actual sales price, which was subject to nondisclosure agreement.

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Renovated Starbucks first step in Read House's $20 million makeover

The Starbucks coffeehouse inside the Read House hotel reopened Wednesday after a 45-day renovation.

And it's just the start of a more than $20 million makeover at the landmark hotel in downtown Chattanooga.

"Really, it's the first step of bringing the Read House back," said Jon Weitz, the president and CEO of Avocet Hospitality Group, a Charleston, S.C.-based company that owns two other boutique hotels. 

"It's a state-of-the-art Starbucks," he said.

The coffeehouse, located on the ground floor at Broad Street and M.L. King Boulevard, is set up so customers in the future can use mobile pay through Starbucks' smartphone app to order and pay for their drink.

"You show up and your coffee is literally sitting there waiting for you when you walk in the door," Weitz said.

Currently, mobile pay is only available in corporately-owned stores, he said, but the coffee giant in the future plans to roll it out at licensed coffeehouses, such at the Read House.

The hotel's renovated coffeehouse also is set up for cold-brewed, nitrogen-infused coffee, he said. However, Starbucks hasn't released that, yet, in Chattanooga.

The Read House Starbucks "was in dire need of a renovation," Weitz said, and a makeover had been planned by the hotel's previous owner.

"They had never pulled the trigger on it," he said.

Creating a 'grand dame'

The big renovation at the Read House will come in late summer.

With help from Artech Design Group, a Chattanooga architecture firm, and T.U. Parks Construction Co., also a local business, work will start to completely redo the third through 10th floors in the original section of the hotel that was built in 1926 facing M.L. King Boulevard.

"The entire old building will be shut down," Weitz said.

In the meantime, guests will stay in the newer section of the Read House, the Manor Building, which was built in 1962.

In the older building, everything will be removed from the upper floors, including walls, plumbing and wiring.

"We're going to take it all the way back to concrete," Weitz said. "And then we'll rebuild from scratch."

"It's the best method to really create a 'grand dame' hotel," he said.

That's how it was done at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, another renovation that Weitz was involved with.

Weitz and two silent partners bought the Read House building and land last year for $9.9 million, according the Hamilton County Register of Deeds office. However, the actual sales price — which included the hotel business, itself — is subject to a confidentiality agreement.

Model renovated room built

A mock-up of what a renovated room will look like has been built in the Manor House section of the Read House near the swimming pool.

"The point of that model room is for us to kick the tires," Weitz said.

Once the work's done in the older building, the renovated Read House should reopen in June 2018.

While the upper floors are being completely redone, the makeover will strive to keep the Read House true to its Roaring Twenties' roots. For example, the wood-paneled lobby looks like it did when the hotel opened, according to historical photos. However, the chandeliers will have to go, Weitz said, since they're not historically accurate.

Playing up the Read House's history is a smart move that sets it apart from newer hotels downtown, said Amy Donahue, spokeswoman for the River City Co., a private nonprofit organization that promotes downtown.

"We're excited that the Read House is in some ways going back to its former glory," Donahue said.

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

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