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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Bob Martino opens a door at a skybox at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge. New development is to start in an area south of the stadium.

Chattanooga Red Wolves owner Bob Martino says he's ready to go vertical outside the team's soccer stadium with work on townhomes starting an array of planned new housing and commercial space.

Already pegged as East Ridge's biggest-ever commercial project, Martino said the planned development has grown to about $200 million, up from $125 million when it was originally proposed a couple of years ago.

"People will really live, work and play here," he said last week about the townhomes, apartments, condominiums, hotels, restaurants, retail space, offices and walking paths planned over five years for the 100-acre site that sits near the split at Interstates 75 and 24.

Inside the stadium, Martino last week opened a 500-seat executive food and beverage area along with eight skyboxes. Five of the boxes already are leased up, with three more available at $40,000 for three years, he said.

"It's a really nice setting," Martino said, noting that the 20 outdoor seats which come with each box are close to the on-field action.

The Red Wolves opened its East Ridge facility last year amid an abbreviated season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The stadium is the first in Tennessee built specifically for a professional soccer team.

Completion of the skyboxes and executive area mark another milestone for the 5,500-seat CHI Memorial Stadium, which eventually will see still more seating than that 3,500 that now exists, Martino said. Home attendance is ranging from 2,000 to 2,500 people per game, he said.

Martino said the team has set a USL League One record for the longest unbeaten streak this year and with results much improved over 2020, he's upbeat over the future of the Red Wolves and the adjacent projects.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / An executive food and beverage area was under construction at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge last week.

Martino, a Park City, Utah, developer, said he has bought property in Ooltewah where he intends to build a residence.

Outside the stadium to the south, work is to begin this week on the first of 136 townhomes, each of which will be 2,500 square feet in size with three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, Martino said. Pricing for the units isn't set yet, he said, but he expected that the first townhomes will be ready in four to six months.

"We want to get rolling on these," he said.

Also on that side of the property and nearest the interstate will be hotels and restaurants. Martino said he's talking to a variety of lodging flags and eateries, with restaurateurs both local and in Nashville and Atlanta.

Chris Dorsey, East Ridge's city manager, said the city is looking at ways to provide better access into Martino's site, which now is off of Spring Creek Road near Parkridge East Hospital.

"We're working together with him," he said earlier this year.

Martino said plans call for a divided four-lane road into the south end of the property from the Ringgold Road area.

In addition, plans are for nearby apartments, condos and the proposed commercial spaces, including a parking garage, to go up later. The project is expected to have about 524 residential units when built out.

"We want to be a destination," Martino said.

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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Bob Martino at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge on Wednesday, September 8, 2021.

A goal is to help grow the tax base for East Ridge and Hamilton County, he said. Household spending is expected to generate nearly $34 million in new sales tax and economic activity from the development and support about 2,500 jobs.

"Our goal is to put money back into the community," Martino said.

Concerning the coronavirus, he said the Red Wolves team is following the county health department guidelines. The pandemic has prompted officials to hold off on some events, but eventually plans are to host concerts and other activities in addition to soccer.

The stadium will hold the NCAA men's and women's soccer championships in the 2023 and 2024 seasons, Martino said.

"It's a huge opportunity to really show the country Tennessee and Hamilton County," he said.

In 2019, the East Ridge City Council voted for a Border Region Retail Development District state sales tax incentive for Martino's project. That allowed the city to recapture the growth in sales tax collections within the zone and then plow those funds back into repaying investments in the area, including the $6 million stadium.

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

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