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Staff photo by Mike Pare / The intersection of Lee Highway and Jubilee Drive is eyed for a makeover as there's interest in developing property near the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

Private developers are expressing a lot of interest in future commercial or residential projects near Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, a city councilwoman says.

"I'm getting a lot of calls from developers," said City Councilwoman Carol Berz about the Lee Highway, Airport Road and Shepherd Road areas near Lovell Field which a recent study indicated is poised for new development.

She said the city could help development of new hotels, housing, retail space and offices by reworking intersections and putting in sidewalks such as has been done downtown. But, Berz said, there's no consideration of using eminent domain to take private property.

"This isn't an eminent domain issue," she said. "Nobody is taking anybody's property."

INFRASTRUCTURE WORK

Cost estimates for work and payment:

* Airport Road-Lee Highway: $730,000, city

* Lee Highway (Airport Road to Provence Street): $1.2 million, public/private

* Airport Road: $3.4 million, public/private

Source: Airport District Study

Last month, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency unveiled initial findings of the study, eyeing public-private partnerships to spur development in the area while protecting existing neighborhoods.

"This plan is about framing a strategy to harness the energy of what's going on at the airport," said Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Bridger.

The airport is setting new commercial air traffic records as people take advantage of more flights and competitive fares, according to officials.

Airport CEO Terry Hart said this summer he's predicting an annual gain of 10 percent in passenger boardings. That would be above a record year in 2018 and put boardings at about 550,000 for all of 2019, he said.

The study, which began late last year, shows the area could support two new hotels with a total of 219 rooms by 2030 and four with 616 rooms by 2040. Short-term, a hotel on the Lee Highway corridor near the airport offers the best bet due to the road's high visibility. A second hotel could go on the Lovell Field campus, the study said.

Also, the area could support up to 400,000 square feet of office space by 2030 and 750,000 square feet by 2040, according to the study. New offices should follow a multi-use format, in which the space is combined with residential or retail space, the study said.

Berz said a hotel could go up off Jubilee Drive, property owned by the airport that formerly held a Target store, and developers are looking at that area. The public segment of a project there could include reworking the intersection, she said.

"That could be the city part," Berz said.

She said there's interest on property off Airport Road, where one site is on the market from between $300,000 and $400,000.

But Berz said Airport Road needs work, noting it's "pretty terrible looking." She said Shepherd Road from Highway 153 to the airport is slated to receive in an upgrade.

The councilwoman said the airport district plan is expected to go before the Planning Commission soon and then the City Council.

The plan also said the area could hold 344,000 square feet of industrial use by 2030 and 642,000 square feet by 2040. While the area doesn't have big parcels, the focus would be on creating smaller, flexible industrial spaces targeting light assembly, research and development, airport services and technology, and food production. Potentially, the area could support a "food processing" incubator for locally based start-up companies, the study said.

In addition, there's room for up to 308 new housing units in the area by 2030 and 579 by 2040, the study said. It suggested a mix of market rate and workforce housing.

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

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