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Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Construction continues on homes at Mill Town on May 17, 2022. Mill Town consists of almost 50-acres of development around the former Standard Coosa Mill.

One of Chattanooga's oldest manufacturing properties is being cleaned up and reshaped to anchor an urban residential neighborhood that will soon bring a variety of housing, retail and office development to a long-blighted area.

Around the site of an abandoned textile mill built more than a century ago by the former Standard-Coosa-Thatcher Co., a $180 million residential neighborhood known as Mill Town is taking shape. The first three-bedroom townhomes erected as rental units are now being offered for lease while site work and building construction continue on hundreds of other units being built on the 40-acre site around the abandoned S-C-T mill on the eastern corridor of Main Street.

Although fires, asbestos and economic problems have thwarted previous development efforts on the S-C-T site, Chattanooga home builder Ethan Collier says he hopes to bring up to 700 new homes and apartment units to the area and reactivate the mill itself with offices, restaurants, entertainment venues and other storefronts over the next three years.

The first of the new units built by Collier in phase 1, which will include 16 single-family homes and 32 townhomes, are now available for lease as part of a joint partnership with the Texas-based RoseRock Development. Collier also built another eight single-family homes for sale.

"We couldn't be more excited that in the next few weeks, the first Mill Town residents will be living in this transformed neighborhood that we have seen change before our eyes over the past three years," said Collier, president of Collier Construction Co. and the developer of Mill Town. "Our vision of creating a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood in the heart of our city with market rate and affordable options is well underway."

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Threads of new development in Chattanooga

The first phase of Mill Town includes two city blocks with single-family 2 and 3-bedroom homes and 3-bedroom townhouses. In the next six months, more for-sale, single-family housing will be launched along with a number of new multi-family apartment units.

"In under a year, we will expect to have built 80 homes in this development so we are on an aggressive development schedule," Collier said.

The Mill Town rental community has been created by Collier Construction and Generation Property Management. Last year the team, led by Texas- based RoseRock, also built an entirely rental subdivision in Red Bank known as Julia's Park, which is now fully leased.

"We have loved being in the Chattanooga market and are so excited to be partnered up again with Collier Construction and Generation Property Management in Mill Town," John Jordan, CEO of RoseRock, said in a statement about the company's growing Chattanooga portfolio. "Helping Ethan bring to life his vision of rejuvenating what will once again become a vibrant part of the city's downtown is thrilling and will provide our residents with a carefully curated living experience that we believe will become one of the most unique and sought-after housing options in the city."

Eight of the new homes are now available for rent and another eight will be ready for leasing by the summer.

"As it is built out over the next three to four years, we believe that Mill Town will help extend the energy of Main Street all the way to Dodds Avenue bringing transformation and vitality to what previously was a neglected part of our city," Todd Womack, president of Generation Property Management, said during a tour of the new homes last week.

Ryan Breneman, CEO of Generation Property Management, said the new 1,600-square-foot townhomes feature 3-bedroom, 2.5 baths and garages with outdoor living spaces. They will rent for just over $2,000 a month and will offer what Breneman said will be "one of the best values and living experiences in the Southside."

Collier said the rental units will offer homebuyers the chance to try out urban living before deciding whether to buy one of the for-sale homes at Mill Town.

 

CNE ADDS AFFORDABLE UNITS

To help diversify the neighborhood, Collier agreed to donate property for the nonprofit agency Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises to build 36 one- and two-bedroom rental units targeted for low- and moderate-income households. CNE President Martina Guilfoil said plans are being developed for a two 6-plex apartment buildings along the 2500 block of 17th Street and a two-story walkup with 24 units in the 2500 block of 18th Street.

CNE also recently bought four lots along Lyerly Street next to Mill Town for some 3-bedroom rental units.

"We hope to start construction later this year," Guilfoil said. "By donating these parcels for CNE to provide affordable housing, Ethan (Collier) is able to help establish a truly mixed-income neighborhood like a lot of us grew up in. This is a great opportunity to redevelop this valuable site and to do it in a socially conscious way that helps ensure that people of all income levels can live here."

Rents in the CNE units are expected to start around $650 a month and max out at about $950 a month. That is far below the average market rental rate for one-bedroom apartments of $1,150 a month, Guilfoil said. To qualify for one of the CNE units, persons must have incomes no more than 80% of the median income in Chattanooga, or no more than $39,950 for a one-person household.

 

REDEVELOPING THE MILL BUILDING

As the population of Mill Town grows, plans are underway to reactivate the Standard Coosa Mill at the center of the neighborhood with a potential mix of retail, office, restaurants and housing.

The 3-story, 350,000-square-foot mill was built in 1916 and expanded in the 1920s by the former Standard-Coosa-Thatcher (S-C-T), a yarn and thread maker that began in 1892 and ultimately shut down in the 1980s. The mill, which is located at 1800 South Watkins Street in the Oak Grove neighborhood, continued limited operations until it was finally shut down entirely in 2003.

In 2015, the abandoned plant was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and St. Louis developer Tim Boyle proposed to convert the mill into the Standard Coosa Artist Lofts with 170 apartments within the cement factory structure. But those plans never got off the drawing board and three years ago Collier was persuaded to buy the mill and surrounding property.

Collier moved his construction business into the former P&C Construction Co. office and warehouse near the mill, which was redeveloped from what was once the research and development headquarters of S-C-T.

On the site where more than 1,000 S-C-T workers once made yarns and threads at the Standard and Thatcher mills, Collier and his partners are looking to eventually convert the structure into a home for corporate offices, restaurants and entertainment venues, artist studios and other stores and commercial uses. The building could also potentially provide some additional multi-family housing.

 

POP UP PROJECT THIS FALL

To initially show off the historic structure, Collier is planning a Pop-Up Project in September with a series of performances that will take over every room and floor of the former textile factory. Titled "If These Walls Could Talk" the performance series will tell the story of the neighborhood's history, the company's relationship with its workers, and the shifting economic realities of the Chattanooga region.

To inform the creation of these pieces, The Pop-Up Project is asking Chattanoogans for their stories – specifically those who have a connection to the neighborhood, the Mill, or the now-defunct Standard Coosa Thatcher company.

"The yarn that was spun here bound together generations of families," Jules Downum, co-founder of The Pop-Up Project, said in an announcement of the planned events this fall. "Those threads can connect the past to the present and the future, and that's what our performances will be all about."

Individuals with stories, photographs, or other memorabilia related to the Standard Coosa Thatcher mill are invited to contact The Pop-Up Project at 423-402-0205 or MillTownStoriesCHA@gmail.com. While stories will be considered for inclusion in The Pop-Up Project's performances, requests for anonymity will be honored.

"It's a big, beautiful, mysterious building," says Collier. "It's been empty for decades, but is still full of memories. We're excited to partner with The Pop-Up Project this year to unlock them."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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