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Staff file photo by Tim Barber/ The Southern Belle riverboat moves upstream on the Tennessee River in this view of the land that sits between the waterfront and Manufacturers Road.

A high-profile tract on the Tennessee River downtown, part of which will hold a $30 million assisted living facility, also is seeing interest from hotel and apartment developers, its owner said.

"There are beautiful views of the river," said Chattanooga businessman John Clark, who owns the property off Manufacturers Road. Clark on Thursday received a zoning variance from a city panel to widen a road into the vacant site.

Buildings near the river at the site, which looks across to the Tennessee Aquarium and Ross's Landing, can go up to six stories high, according to the Chattanooga Form-Based Code Committee.

The parcel for many years was owned by Chattanoogan Allen Casey, who had several ideas for the 11 acres including a hotel and floating restaurant.

But in 2014, the parcel became embroiled in a Casey bankruptcy court case. Eventually, a 6.6-acre tract at the site was sold for $5.5 million to Clark's American River Development.

Earlier this year, a five-story assisted living facility was announced. Called Merrill Gardens at Chattanooga, the facility will front Manufacturers Road will hold 136 assisted living units and another 15 memory care rooms, said developer Clayton Mozingo of Second Fifty Communities.

Clark said work on the assisted living units are slated to start soon with an opening occurring in about 18 months.

On Thursday, he sought an increase in the width of the driveway from Manufacturers Road that will serve the assisted living facility and eventually his property behind it that sits near the river.

The committee approved the variance from a 20-foot-wide road to 30 feet, which would allow for three lanes of traffic.

Allen Jones of ASA Engineering & Consulting said the wider road is key for residents of the assisted living units and it will permit easier access by emergency vehicles.

Also, he said that Clark has been getting interest from the hotel and residential developers.

"With future development, they'll need to get in and out," Jones said.

He said there has been discussion with the city and another owner of adjacent riverfront property, Jackson Wingfield, about a new road from the tract leading to an intersection with Manufacturers Road and leading into the Two North Shore shopping center.

But, Jones said, those talks haven't progressed. Clark said that road could go into Two North Shore, which holds Whole Foods and Rock/Creek, and eventually connect with Cherokee Boulevard.

In 2009, Casey brought a barge to the city to put in a floating restaurant and bar at the riverfront site. But that project fizzled and the vessel deteriorated over the years, leading to an extended fight over removing the barge, which happened in 2015.

Casey, who developed the Choo Choo into one of Tennessee's top attractions decades ago, and one of his companies filed for bankruptcy in 2014 as he faced a civil trial related to a lawsuit brought by former investors.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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