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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / The new Aloft Hotel in Chattanooga is seen on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

Chattanooga's only Aloft hotel opened Tuesday as a key part of the most ambitious revamp of Hamilton Place mall in its 34-year history.

"We've got a captive audience," said Mitch Patel, president and chief executive of Chattanooga-based hotel operator Vision Hospitality Group, about the location.

The seven-story, 135-room hotel was built immediately adjacent to the mall on the former site of Sears.

Mall owner CBL Properties bought the department store property and nearby parking lots and is redeveloping the land. Already a Cheesecake Factory restaurant, Dave & Buster's entertainment complex and Dick's Sporting Goods store have been raised. Vision and CBL partnered in the new hotel.

Patel, whose group has 43 hotels including 17 in the Chattanooga vicinity and four in the Hamilton Place area, said his prior relationship with locally based CBL had him involved early on in efforts to redevelop the old Sears.

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Aloft hotel opens at Hamilton Place

"If we add a hotel in this market, it better be different," he said about choosing the Aloft brand.

David Martin, Vision's chief operating officer, said the room style is more open air than a typical hotel.

"It creates a whole different feel," he said.

Hotel rates are expected to run from $125 to $175 a night depending on demand, Martin said.

Michael Lebovitz, president of CBL Properties, said the mall operator is adding uses to the shopping center which customers want.

Also, he cited the connectivity between the mall and the nearby venues.

"It flows well," Lebovitz said. "It's very synergistic."

Patel, who declined to reveal the hotel's cost, said his company is part of similar redevelopments in a couple of other markets. But, he said, he's happy to undertake such a project in his home town.

"Doing something in your backyard means so much more to us," Patel said.

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger cited the design of the building as well as the jobs that the hotel and the mall offer.

"I'm looking forward to seeing scenic views," he said, mentioning a rooftop bar.

Barry White, who heads The Chattanooga Tourism Co., cited the confidence that Vision has in the local market.

"You talk about Chattanooga evolving, I think Mitch's company is helping lead," he said.

Sears closed its Hamilton Place Mall in late 2018, and two months later shut down its only other Chattanooga store at Northgate Mall, which is also owned by CBL.

The Chattanooga-based CBL filed for bankruptcy protection last Nov. 1 after the company was hit by the coronavirus pandemic along with the shift by many shoppers to online retailers.

The pandemic ravaged revenues at its more than 100 centers nationally due to last March's lockdown, store closings, and a slow return to face-to-face shopping.

But even before the outbreak, CBL was grappling with the changing tastes of shoppers when it comes to malls and department stores along with more online buying.

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

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