Steam Logistics, one of the fastest-growing companies in Chattanooga in one of the city's highest-flying business sectors, on Friday dubbed its planned new downtown headquarters "the Steam Center."
Jason Provonsha, the company's chief executive, told about 75 people outside the historic John Ross Building at Fourth and Market streets that the venture that employed 30 people five years ago now employs nearly 600.
The $7 million refurbishing underway at the long-vacant building, which was purchased by locally based Noon Development, is expected to provide a home to another 400 or so employees over the next five years.
Provonsha said Steam likely will land in Inc. magazine's top 500 fastest-growing companies in the newest ranking, and it's opening a fifth office outside of Chattanooga.
"A winning culture makes for a winning business," he said, adding that about 30% of its workforce are women and 20% are people of color.
Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said at the official start of the building's revamp that helping the project happen was "a no-brainer, a layup."
The city and Hamilton County approved a nine-year payment-in-lieu-of-tax (PILOT) agreement in which Steam will pay school taxes and stormwater fees. The company would save $500,000 in property taxes during that period, officials said.
Kelly said Steam is among a cluster of businesses in the trucking and logistics sector in Chattanooga, which has been called "freight alley." He said the building's makeover is "critical. It needs to happen."
When complete by the end of this year, the renovation will enhance into the century-old, four-story structure that sits at a gateway to downtown.
According to the state, the site held a general store from at least 1885 to 1893. The current 60,000-square-foot building was raised about 1920 and used as an auto sales and service center until 1975. Later, the structure was used by TVA and Unum for document and furniture storage until left vacant since 2007.
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger cited the importance of a vibrant downtown and repurposing such buildings and creating jobs. He also said it's key to educate a workforce for companies such as Steam.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said no one had any idea two decades ago of the emergence of the freight brokerage sector.
"It couldn't have happened without a younger generation coming here and creating jobs," he said.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said he recalled when downtown held vacant lots and abandoned buildings.
"The city was on the brink of going the wrong way," he said.
Christy Gillenwater, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's president and chief executive, said her favorite projects are the expansion of a local company.
"The sector is thriving right here in freight alley," she said, citing the investment in the central city where a number of those businesses are headquartered.
Todd Kimling of Noon Development noted the building had been vacant for a long time.
"There's so much to do," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.