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Staff file photo / Mayor Andy Berke toured the old Wheland Foundry-U.S. Pipe site in 2017. The 141-acre site is seen as a linchpin in the redevelopment of the South Broad district.

This story was updated at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, with more information.

Work to remake a key Interstate-24 interchange coming from Nashville into Chattanooga's South Broad district is slated to finally begin, officials said Tuesday.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation said construction will begin soon on the I-24 interchange at Broad and Market streets, improving access to the vacant Wheland Foundry and U.S. Pipe sites along with the South Broad corridor.

Mike Mallen, a partner at the company that owns the 141-acre foundry site, said it's expected the work will take three years to complete.

"It will take three years to improve the whole run of exits and make it user friendly and make it brand new," he said.

In 2013, TDOT said it was doing preliminary engineering and design work and some $3.7 million had been approved. But, the state agency said then that the rest of the work would need funding.

The agency then estimated $28 million for interstate widening and $9 million for the interchange work.

The road work is considered the biggest change in decades for motorists exiting I-24 to Chattanooga's Southside and Lookout Mountain.

Mallen said the foundry group continues to talk with potential developers of the site.

"We continue to feel very strongly that we want the property to be a gateway site to the city," he said. "For that reason, we've been very stubborn holding to the master plan."

The South Broad District Plan, developed in 2018 by the city, is expected to guide future development in the area bounded by the foundry land, Howard School, I-24 and Chattanooga Creek.

The plan foresees an array of new housing along with commercial and retail space, upgraded parks, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, including a potential new minor league ballpark and entertainment facility to serve as a catalyst for development.

Gary Chazen, another partner at the company which owns the foundry site, said that as conversations with developers progress, the start of the interchange work is an important milestone.

"We are appreciative of TDOT's commitment to this project," he said.

Both Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke cited the interchange work.

"This new interchange will help lead to the revitalization of this part of Hamilton County," Coppinger said.

Berke said providing safe and effective connectivity is important for community access and enhancing economic development.

"The new interchange along I-24 will serve as a catalyst for the growth of this important site that will continue to enhance and expand the neighborhood's footprint," he said.

Last week, TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright visited the city to meet with local leaders and provide an update on the project.

Mallen said improving access to the foundry district and South Broad "will provide required certainty for development prospects and will move us closer to making our unwavering, long-standing vision for the former U.S. Pipe and Wheland site a reality."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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