As the transformation of The Chattanooga Choo Choo continues, the historic hotel in the Southside has added another tenant that will take over the former 30,000-square-foot Centennial Theater and ballroom.
The TenGIG Festival, the biggest three-day gaming festival in the Southeast, is leasing the old ballroom and movie theater and remodeling it to include two self-contained sound stages for the annual event held Oct. 19-21 this year. Serial entrepreneur Jared Nixon runs the TenGIG Festival, which was held in Chattanooga for the first time last year, and said they are on schedule with construction and should have it up and running for the 2018 esports festival.
In Phase 1, about 20,000 square feet of the old ballroom and movie theater will be converted into two, independent stages that also can be rented out for music, corporate and community events, he said. Phase 2 should happen in 2019.
"Ideally, we would tear that part down and go up and out," Nixon said about the remaining 10,000 square feet.
By gradually adding 10-15 events each year to be held in the space, Nixon said he hopes to reach 50-60 events annually. Not all of those events would revolve around esports, though. Nixon said he already has received inquiries from local companies about hosting events at the new venue.
According to eSports market researcher Newzoo, eSports-related revenue hit $325 million worldwide in 2015 and Goldman Sachs expects the industry to vault above $1 billion by 2020.
The ability to launch TenGIG in Chattanooga is directly related to the capabilities of EPB's 10-gig fiber network, which Nixon says is unique, as well as partnerships with such companies as EPB, VaynerMedia and Next Generation eSports.
Adam Kinsey, president of Choo Choo Partners, said the new space is a great concept that won't just better the Choo Choo property but will help continue to push Chattanooga's technology and innovation.
"They have an option to expand and grow and we hope they do," Kinsey said about TenGIG.
According to Kinsey, the Choo Choo Partners felt like the historic hotel could become more of an entertainment hub for downtown. He said they had been looking for a new use for the 30,000-square-foot space since the beginning of the year.
"TenGIG continues the entertainment element but it's also something that has international draw," Kinsey said. "We're excited for that use and how it fits in with the other dynamic tenant mix and entertainment options we already have on property."
The transformation of the Choo Choo complex started about three years ago and was all about getting the best use of every square foot and acre, Kinsey said.
Construction workers were busy Friday, and the complex will see several new tenants in the coming months, including the Gate 11 Distillery and the Chattanooga Jewelry Company moving in by the end of the year.
William A. Lee, the Soddy-Daisy man opening the micro distillery inside the Choo Choo, said the space is a little over 1,800-square-feet and has required them to get creative. They will be aging whiskey in a box car. There will also be a cocktail bar and space for bands and performances.
Lee said customers will also have the option of creating and aging their own barrel of whiskey.
"It's exciting to be a part of what is happening at the Choo Choo," he said Friday. "A lot of evolution in the nature of businesses coming in here."
The Coin-Op Arcade recently opened a second location inside the Choo Choo, too. They will leave their original location open at 233 East M.L. King Blvd.
Kinsey said that the 283-unit Bluebird Row Apartments should be opening up later this year, which combined with the 208 units from Passenger Flats, will make nearly 500 living spaces on the property. The Choo Choo still has 135 hotel rooms available, too.
"It's a great place to live and play and stay," he said.
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at firstname.lastname@example.org, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.