This story was updated Sept. 5, 2018, at 7:39 p.m. with more information.
Chattanooga is appealing to us. It's the overall quality of life. It's the economic fundamentals.
Downtown Chattanooga's riverfront area is poised to hold one of its biggest-ever apartment and commercial projects as a developer plans to build on a pair of Unum Group parking lots.
Some 151 apartments and a dozen townhouses, along with 16,000 square feet of office and retail space, are to go up on the lots, said Alan McMahon, development manager of The Beach Company of Charleston, South Carolina.
Among projects under construction or recently announced:
› Bluebird Row (behind Choo Choo): 283 units
› Cameron Harbor: 200 units
› 328 Cherokee Blvd.: 185 units
› 2108 Chestnut St.: 174 units
› Fourth and Cherry streets: 163 apartments/townhouses
› Broad and W. 17th streets: 139 units
› McCallie and Central avenues: 138 units
› 538 Cherokee Blvd.: 71 units
› 203 E. Main St.: 33 units
› M.L. King Boulevard and Douglas Street: 31 units
"People want to live in the downtown area where they can walk to things like restaurants, stores and outdoor spaces," he said. "There's really a demand for that lifestyle that transcends generations."
The biggest parking lot is bounded by Cherry, Walnut, Third and Fourth streets and is currently used for public parking. A smaller adjacent lot across Cherry Street and behind the Hair of the Dog pub, also now is public parking, McMahon said.
A 300-space parking garage will be constructed in the center of the big lot for the new development, which will have three-, four- and five-story buildings, he said.
It's estimated that more than 3,000 apartment units, nearly 2,000 student beds, and 250 condominiums and townhouses have recently opened or are coming online within the next year or so. The newest development adds to the mix.
"Chattanooga is appealing to us," McMahon said. "It's not just the Riverwalk. It's the overall quality of life. It's the economic fundamentals. It's a desirable place for people to live."
Kim White, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., said it has been working with The Beach Company for about three years on the proposal.
"This is a gateway of our city," said White, who estimated the development at about $48 million.
She said much of the new housing downtown isn't going up in that part of the riverfront area.
"There's not a lot of housing where they're going," White said.
In addition, White said the employment base in that area with Unum, Erlanger hospital and other entities is large.
"It's a great place to work and live close," she said. "It will capture some of that market."
A recently completed downtown parking study said the Unum parking lots weren't heavily used by the public and that's not the highest use for the property, White said.
McMahon said a rezoning request has been made to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency on a small portion of the site. If the company receives approval next month, it's expected to start work by summer 2019 on the project that is to take two years to build, he said.
McMahon said the company has an agreement to buy the parking lots from Unum, which employs just under 3,000 people downtown.
Unum earlier built a pair of large parking garages close to the insurer's headquarters, which made some of the company's parking lots available for redevelopment.
Richard Meadows, Unum's assistant vice president of corporate real estate, said there are no other active negotiations related to any of the company's lots.
"Occasionally, we receive unsolicited proposals from developers for our surface lots," he said. "We review these against our long-term real estate strategy and the merits of the proposals, as we want to make sure any new project is done well and in concert with the city's overall development."
McMahon said the townhouses are to go on Third Street facing existing units to keep a residential look there. The townhouses, which are slated as rental units at this time, will be three levels with parking on the bottom, he said.
Apartments are to go up on Cherry, Fourth and Walnut around the parking garage, he said. Also, commercial space will go on the ground floor on Fourth Street. In addition, some bottom-level commercial space will be constructed across Cherry on the small lot with apartments above, McMahon said. He said it's too early to talk about price points for the rental units.
The company, which also has two projects under development in Nashville, hasn't looked at seeking public incentives at this point, McMahon said.
White said Unum was "very involved" in discussions with Beach, adding the insurer's officials see the development as "a legacy project."
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.