A new three-story building on part of downtown Chattanooga's M.L. King Boulevard that for many years was known as "The Big 9" will hold office space, an eatery and a mural tracing its roots.
The 12,000-square-foot building will go at East M.L. King and Mabel Street near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, which recalls the area's ties to rhythm and blues, jazz and soul music.
Justin Dumsday, a partner at River Street Architecture, said one side of the building is to feature a mural that he hopes will link the $2 million structure to M.L. King, its history as a center of Black culture and the Bessie Smith Center.
"Hopefully, it will have something to do with jazz or MLK, or something with some of the roots in the neighborhood," he said.
M.L. King Boulevard was for many years known as Ninth Street, serving as the epicenter of the Black community and as a mecca for live music and entertainment with stores, restaurants and hotels.
Chattanoogan Tiffanie Robinson, who is behind the project, said the first floor of the new structure already is leased to "a pretty well-known restaurant" out of Nashville that she wouldn't immediately identify.
Also, the building will offer two levels of office space, which she noted is not common in the East M.L. King district.
"We believe the district is going to be a new kind of energy area for downtown Chattanooga," said Robinson, adding that Chattanooga-based incubator Lamp Post Group also is an investor.
Robinson said work is to start within 45 days and finish by year's end.
She said a number of businesses are starting to move into the East M.L. King area.
For example, Chattanooga developers Chris Curtis and Bobby Joe Adamson recently raised a new mixed-use building nearby at Douglas and M.L. King. Adamson has already put up new housing in the M.L. King area and said there's a need for more.
Curtis is the developer of Douglas Heights, the $41 million, seven-story student housing complex on Douglas Street just off M.L. King that opened in 2016.
Dumsday said the new structure will create even more density in the neighborhood and add seven parking spaces. A small building that had for a time served as a UTC welcome center was already demolished on the tract, which was bought from downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co., he said.
Robinson said she's confident that the area will support the office space, even though it's difficult to predict the future of such commercial locations due to the pandemic.
"We have strong occupancy in our portfolio," said Robinson, who is chief executive of Lamp Post Properties, which has a lot of downtown space.
She said that demand for office space is "an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes we think it's back to normal. Other days we're questioning that, too. Last week, the number of inquiries for office was pretty robust."
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