Updated at 6:45 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, with more information.

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Staff file photo A neon sign marks Nikki's Drive Inn on Cherokee Boulevard on Chattanooga's growing North Shore.

A Chattanooga developer is looking at building a 52-unit condominium complex on a tract that currently holds longtime eatery Nikki's Drive-Inn.

Fletcher Bright Co. has submitted plans to a city zoning panel for variances to construct a four-story building at Cherokee Boulevard and West Bell Avenue, just before the Stringer's Ridge Tunnel.

It's unclear whether the owner of the popular restaurant, which is a 79-year-old fixture on Chattanooga's North Shore known for its jumbo fried shrimp and onion rings, will relocate to another site or close.

"We and him have been working together quite some time on this," said Cardon Smith, a Fletcher Smith Co. vice president.

James E. Jones, the restaurant owner, could not be reached for comment. But earlier this year, he told online channel ChattWithUs that the views from the 1-acre parcel are "phenomenal."

(Read more: Kennedy: How would you make your last meal from Chattanooga foods?)

Smith said that while Fletcher Bright Co. has a contract on the Nikki's property, the project is in "the exploratory stage" as it goes through the zoning process.

The developer is seeking a change to go from three to four stories high on the site among other variances. The city's Form-Based Code Committee is expected to take up the matter on Oct. 10.

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Rendering by HK Architects / A rendering shows how a possible 52-unit condominium project at Cherokee Boulevard and West Bell Avenue could look.

Smith said the units, the number of which also could change, would be a mix of one- and two-bedroom condos.

He said it's too early to price the units, but that the developer wants to "provide affordable product close to downtown."

Not far away, just off Cherokee Boulevard, the company has started work on another project to build 26 condos called The Fairpoint. That three-level complex is selling units from the high $200,000 to mid-$400,000 range at 411 Fair Point St. That project has a $7.5 million price tag.

"We've had some good success with presales at Fairpoint," Smith said.

He said he doesn't have a time frame for the possible condos on the Nikki's site.

"From conception to opening it can take two to three years," Smith said. "We're at the beginning stages of this."

Jones said in the interview earlier this year that the eatery was passed down from his parents, Charlie and June Jones.

"The customers made Nikki's," he said. "It's a favorite place for them to come."

He added that there are some employees of the restaurant who've put in more than 30 years there.

June Jones said in a Chattanooga Times interview in 1991 that the business is almost entirely comprised of regular customers who are used to the food, the prices and the staff.

"We have more of a personal touch, where we have closer contact to a customer," she said. "I believe people appreciate that."

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