“The corridor is evolving. What we're trying to do is shepherd that.”
The "Big Nine" nickname is returning to East M.L. King Boulevard.
Chattanooga developers Bobby Joe Adamson and Chris Curtis are joining up to raise their second new apartment and retail structure on the key downtown corridor, which they'll call the Big Nine Building.
Their newest project at 621 M.L. King will rise four stories and house 41 apartments. Its name will reflect the road's history — it was long known as Ninth Street and served as a thriving center of black commerce and entertainment.
The $3 million to $4 million building, that will also hold ground-floor commercial space, is to start going up in about six months and open in 2020, the developers said.
Earlier this year, Adamson and Curtis started construction on the Gateway Building just a couple blocks west at M.L. King and Douglas Street. That structure, also four levels, will hold 31 apartments and ground-floor retail when it opens next year.
Adamson, who is black, and Curtis, who is white, said they want to show that people of different races can work together.
"The corridor is evolving," said Curtis. "What we're trying to do is shepherd that."
Adamson's company, Adamson Development, and Curtis' business, Riverside Development, each won requests for proposals for the individual sites and decided to pool their resources and knowledge for the two projects.
Adamson said he's trying to leave a legacy for people who "look like me," recalling that the corridor for many years was a business and entertainment hub for blacks.
Long before it was M.L. King Boulevard, black-owned retail shops, offices and entertainment venues were clustered on the strip and the area bustled.
Adamson recalled that when he was a teen, he would come to then-Ninth Street to eat at its restaurants because he wouldn't be served in other parts of downtown.
But when businesses began opening their doors to all races and traffic patterns changed, that put the boulevard at a disadvantage and a lot of the commerce died off.
For decades, efforts to revive East M.L. King saw mixed results.
However, with downtown's core seeing a rebirth, coupled with an expansion in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's housing footprint and the impact of the city's Innovation District, a renaissance appears to be taking hold.
Adamson said he has already put up new housing in the M.L. King area and 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.
Curtis said rents for apartments in the Gateway Building will start at about $800 monthly.
"We're trying to make it affordable," he said. They see both buildings appealing to young professionals, students or anyone interested in that part of downtown.
One factor that's making building easier in the corridor is that there has been a consolidation of tracts, Curtis said, which creates both a willingness and the possibility to put in projects.
"A lot of parcels were chopped up," he said.
Adamson's son, Charles, cited spill over from the Innovation District as helping growth. That 140-acre district in downtown's core was created in 2015 as a place where entrepreneurs, tech-based startups, and business incubators can mesh and create a so-called innovation ecosystem.
Both Curtis and Bobby Joe Adamson, who has sons Charles and Jeffery and daughter Brenda Jean Adamson Cothran involved in the business, foresee more growth in the area over the next decade even after the addition of hundreds of other apartment units downtown in the past couple of years.
"It doesn't have enough buildings," Adamson said.
Curtis said there's room for 100 to 150 residential units with a need for more services.
Also, he said, there could be a parking garage raised in the area, though that may need public help.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.