“This isn't the city I grew up in. The city is getting so exciting.”
John Woods recalls the days a generation ago when people generally didn't want to come to downtown Chattanooga.
While he grew up in East Ridge, he like many of his peers left the Chattanooga area eventually for Atlanta, where he earned a degree in risk management from Georgia State University. After college, he moved north to enter the business world in New York, and then later back to Atlanta as an asset manager with Oppenheimer.
Today, however, Chattanooga has changed and Woods says he wants to increasingly become a part of the city. While he still lives in Atlanta, Woods spends two days a week in the Scenic City where he is chief executive officer at Southport Capital, which manages about $600 million in assets and employs 29 people. He also oversees other business interests, including the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team.
"This isn't the city I grew up in," says Woods, 53, in his Southport Capital headquarters in the UBS Building downtown. "The city is getting so exciting."
While Woods' company has 11 offices, including in Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta's Buckhead, he says he's amazed what Chattanooga has become over the past two decades. While Chattanooga has its problems, Wood says, he's hopeful of moving from Atlanta to Chattanooga for good within a couple of years.
"I want to come back where I grew up," he says.
Woods has been married to his wife Janelle for 15 years. She was an all-Big Eight volleyball player at Oklahoma and was previously married to Mookie Blaylock, who played 13 years in the NBA. His wife had three boys and the couple also have a 12 year old.
After graduating from East Ridge High, Woods was a football walk-on at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, roomed one summer with former Mocs quarterback Tim Couch and later transferred to Tennessee Tech before getting his degree at Georgia State.
In 2014, Woods became one of the general partners of the Chattanooga Lookouts as his group bought the team from longtime owner Frank Burke. Woods says he brought in Jason Freier as a partner to run the team and "increase the fan experience."
He cites Freier's work with minor league teams in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Columbus, South Carolina. In Fort Wayne, which built a new stadium, the downtown area has seen $250 million in development, Woods says.
"Jason knows what he's doing," Woods says.
He's an advocate of entering into a public-private partnership to finance a new multi-use stadium on former foundry property in the South Broad District in Chattanooga. Woods says the city will come out "a lot further ahead" financially with a modern, multi-use entertainment venue than the current AT&T Field overlooking downtown's waterfront.
Woods says the owners of the 141-acre U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry tracts have held the property in hopes of landing something that would bring a lot of value to the city.
"They're trying to do right by the city," he says. "That group is trying to do something great for the city."
Mike Mallen, part of the Chattanooga group which owns the foundry property, says while he has only known Woods for a short time, he finds him "friendly, affable and I've got a lot of confidence in him."
Mallen says there are a lot of people who want to see the South Broad District get a turn at the growth and development which downtown and other parts of the city are seeing.
"We're working hard to figure out the 140 acres of the 400-acre footprint [in the district]," he says. "We'll keep working as the mayors and elected officials expect us to bring the 37408 [zip code] forward."
Woods other business interests that tie him to Chattanooga include shopping center developments, working with local developer Clint Wolford. Woods says that Wolford's father, the late Chattanooga developer James "Bucky" Wolford, was a mentor to him.
"He was an old Alabama boy who worked hard and did well," he says.
In addition, Woods is involved in the project to bring a new 25-acre construction and demolition materials landfill to the Birchwood Pike area.
Additionally, Woods is an author, having co-written a book with brother Jim about their decades of experience working with high-worth investors.