The largest undeveloped riverfront property in Chattanooga has a new owner with plans for more than $200 million of residential and commercial development built around a town center, or New Urbanism design.
A newly formed local development group paid $8.1 million to buy more than 210 acres on the Tennessee River in Lupton City from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which once planned to use the site to build its corporate headquarters.
The new owners are organized as the Riverton Development Group and they hope to soon develop a master plan for their newly acquired site. The preliminary plan is to build a walkable neighborhood with an array of housing, a town center and numerous recreational amenities.
Becky Cope English, the Realtor for the project and one of the principals in Riverton LLC, said the Riverton name combines River and Lupton City and will be carved out of part of about 1,000 acres that Dixie Yarns founder John T. Lupton acquired in the 1920s to house a mill for Dixie Yarns.
"It's a terrific site next to the Champions Club tennis courts and Rivermont Park with a boat launch and with 3,300 linear feet of water access along the Tennessee River (just downstream of the C.B. Robinson bridge)," Cope English said. "There are lots of public recreation amenities adjacent to one of the most beautiful undeveloped parcels in Chattanooga — only a 5-minute drive from downtown."
› BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee bought 210 acres in 2001 for a new corporate campus, but abandoned those plans in favor of building its headquarters downtown on Cameron Hill.
› Chattanooga businessman John T. Lupton in the 1920s bought 1,000 acres of farm land on the Tennessee River to develop a manufacturing community called Lupton City for the yarn and thread maker then known as Dixie Mercerizing Co. As business grew, houses, a post office, church, gym, movie theater, swimming pool and golf course were built.
The developers have studied cities with similar attributes in Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., as well as new urbanism communities such as Seaside, Fla.; Mt. Laurel, Birmingham; and Serenbe near Palmetto, Ga.
"If you were to study successful, sustainable communities and cities around the country, you would find common characteristics like pedestrian-oriented streetscapes, diverse housing options and a mix of uses all within a comfortable walking distance," said Cope English.
"From day one, minimizing the impact of development on the land was a high priority, and our investors, also strongly aligned with conservation, environmental stewardship and nature, supported our goal to keep approximately one-third of the property as it is, undeveloped,'" she said.
Cope English said the developers envision hiking trails, nature trails, parks and wetlands in the master plan that is now being drafted for the area. The developers hired an arborist to walk the site and identify the oldest and best trees so they can be preserved.
"We are still working with our consultants and thinking through the environmental aspects of the development, but we think the opportunities are huge," she said. "We are even discussing what kind of educational resources we could make available so everyone from children to adults can learn and be involved with the sustainable stewardship of the land."
Riverton officials plan to begin putting the infrastructure in place soon after a final plan is developed and approved. With the approval of city planners, Cope English estimated that the entire build-out should be completed within five to seven years and could eventually include a couple hundred homes, condominiums and storefronts.
Riverton will be an authentic, multi-generational community offering a variety of options including estate homes, townhomes, condominiums, single-family and senior living, she said. The town center will include mixed-uses and a central park for recreation and events.
"We plan to design the community to offer multiple residential alternatives to reach a wide and diverse demographic," said Cope English. "Although Riverton will be new and innovative, our plan is to integrate all the great personalities that older, established neighborhoods have, which includes fun, active and vibrant living.
In addition, developers said the vision for Riverton includes a mixed-use town center of shops, restaurants and small businesses. Conceptually this might include a neighborhood grocery, coffee shop, spa, bakery, clothing boutiques, salon and galleries as well as professional offices, health care, dental, daycare and veterinary offices.
Recreational amenities might include a clubhouse and pool, gathering pavilion, fire pits and grilling stations, a dock with a paddleboard and kayak launch as well as parks to host community events.
"We want to create a live, work and play environment to meet a wide variety of needs," said Cope English. "While just minutes from a thriving downtown, we still want to include all the elements of a self-sustained, small town so after a busy day or during a weekend you will have all you need if you want to stay home and relax."
The site off of Lupton Drive now houses a 9-hole golf course, which soon will be phased out, plus more than 150 acres of undeveloped wooded land just east of the city's Rivermont Park and boat ramp.
"The first time we walked the property we were speechless," Cope English said. "The views of the river with Lookout Mountain in the backdrop, the natural beauty of the land — we instantly knew the property was special and it deserved to be thoughtfully and carefully planned."
The site also borders the former R.L. Stowe mill, originally built by Dixie Yarns. The mill shut down in 2009 and the 12-acre site was sold three years later to an investment group known as Lupton City LLC, which demolished the mill to salvage the bricks and building material but left a towering brick smokestack and a field of rubble.
The city of Chattanooga has budgeted $1.5 million to clean up the site, although work has yet to begin on the cleanup.
"It's an eyesore now and we are eager to get the mill site cleaned up," said Mark Mullin, who heads the Fairfax Heights-Bagwell City-Lupton City Neighborhood Association, which represents homeowners in the area. "We'd love to see the rest of the Dixie site remain green forever, but we realize that is not going to happen. We're hopeful whatever is developed is built in a responsible way that helps our area of town."
BlueCross, the state's biggest health insurer, acquired the land from the former Dixie Yarns in 2001 to consolidate its Chattanooga operations in a corporate campus. But at the urging of former mayor and now U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, BlueCross decided instead to build its $300 million corporate headquarters on Cameron Hill downtown and sell the property off of Lupton Drive.
BlueCross had listed the property for more than $10 million when it was first put on the market in 2014. But officials for the health insurer said they were pleased with the $8.1 million sale and the plans by the new owners.
"Lupton City is a unique property in Chattanooga with a great potential for the city and its residents and we're glad to have found a buyer who understands its value," BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Danielson said. "We're looking forward to seeing its development."
Benjamin Pitts of Herman Waldorf and Company represented Riverton, as purchaser, and David Devaney of Charter Real Estate represented BlueCross.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.