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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Cambridge Square
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Suburban Square: How developers created a unique commercial center in the suburbs

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A decade ago, Doris Schober began looking in Ooltewah to build another Lupi's Pizza restaurant, but she had trouble finding a suitable site in one of the fastest growing parts of the Chattanooga region.

"There has been so much activity in Ooltewah and Collegedale that I knew I wanted to go out there for some time, but there was just no place available when we first started looking. So, we went to Cleveland first," Schober recalls.

In 2012, Lupi's ultimately opened the first of what will soon be a dozen local restaurants or eateries in Cambridge Square, the Ooltewah development that also includes medical offices, boutique shops and corporate offices. Located along Highway 64 just a half mile off of Interstate 75, Cambridge Square is nestled between a variety of Lee Highway gas stations, fast-food restaurants and chain stores on one side and the Honors Golf Course that the late Jack Lupton developed on the other side.

"When I found out about Cambridge Square and its local, pedestrian-friendly appeal, we jumped at the chance to go there and it has worked out extremely well," Schober says. "We love that Cambridge Square is not just 'anyplace USA' and offers a much different experience."

Unlike its other commercial neighbors, Cambridge Square includes 10 commercial buildings erected around a common square and stage that hosts musicians and other entertainment on most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Over the past six years, the complex has grown to more than two dozen tenants — each distinctive of one another and most locally owned.

Ultimately, Cambridge Square is designed to include about 230,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and the project is now about halfway toward that goal.

The developers, who grew out of the Lupton Co., have come a long way since January 2012 when they pitched the idea of the square to local business owners and entrepreneurs. The 130-acre project, which includes about 25 acres of commercial development and nearly 100 acres of residential housing, is being developed by Barrier Properties LLC.

Jim Cheney, a former manager at Tim Downey's Southern Land Co., worked on a similar but bigger Westhaven project in Franklin, Tennessee, for seven years before joining Barrier Properties as leasing and marketing agent. He says the developers have taken a deliberate approach to offer unique, local food, retail and commercial tenants to distinguish Cambridge Square from other suburban retail centers.

"From our first meeting down on at the old Camp House on Williams Street where we laid out our plans, we've had a very clear vision of looking for locally owned enterprises that were looking for expansion opportunities in Ooltewah," Cheney says. "Our message wasn't about relocating to Cambridge Square or getting another location for a national chain. For some of our early tenants, it really was a leap of faith."

Only four exits up from one of Tennessee's biggest shopping malls at Hamilton Place, Cambridge Square wasn't designed to compete with the mall and its retail spin-offs around it in East Brainerd.

"We're looking for an experience that is different from what national chains offer and we've brought together a lot of successful local brands that Chattanoogans have embraced for some time," Cheney says. "There are a growing number of people living in the Ooltewah and Cleveland areas that were supporting these restaurant and retail concepts downtown or in North Chattanooga but they didn't necessarily want to drive back downtown at night or on the weekend for visit these businesses after they drove home. We've filled a real void and given people here a place to relax, hang out and enjoy eating or shopping closer to home."

Melissa Paryse, owner of the Barn Door Boutique at Cambridge Square for the past couple of years, said the atmosphere at Cambridge Square has more of a downtown feel than a typical suburban shopping center.

"All of the restaurants are unique and different from one another so they attract a lot of different people and are not really in competition with one another," Paryse said. "The free concerts in the square also attract a lot of people and with all of the events and activities here it's really become a great family-friendly place for people to come."

And when they do, the Barn Door Boutique cash registers ring, Paryse said. The Oktoberfest festival in October generated the store's biggest single sales day, she said.

For all of its commercial success, Cambridge Square has been slower than originally envisioned for using most of its 130 acres for residential housing.

In fact, Cambridge Square, like most master planned communities of its type across the country, was originally planned to start as a residential subdivision on the land that had served as a buffer between Ooltewah's commercial development and the 18-hole Honors Course in Ooltewah.

"The original plan for Cambridge Square was to start with the houses and then build the [commercial] development next to it," recalls Barry Payne, a home builder who began constructing homes three years after the commercial square was built at Cambridge Square.

The housing slump a decade ago during the Great Recession put home building on pause and developers focused most of their initial attention on the commercial side of Cambridge Square before the first homes were built five years ago.

"As it turns out, the downturn in the economy was the best thing that could ever have happened," Payne recalls. "If I had started building $250-a-square-foot houses without Cambridge next to them, I would have been laughed out of Ooltewah."

By developing the restaurants, stores and medical offices in the commercial square first, Cheney said Cambridge Square has had to appeal to all of the Ooltewah area.

"We wanted the broader community to embrace this, and not feel like it just belonged to the residential district," Cheney says.

The nearby community has been one of the fastest growing towns in Tennessee. The city of Collegedale, located just across Lee Highway from Cambridge Square, is the second fastest growing city in Tennessee since the last census in 2010. Collegedale has more than doubled its population since the turn of the century in 2000 and its growth rate is behind only the Nashville suburb of Mount Juliet among all Tennessee cities with over 10,000 residents.

New homes, some with a price tag of more than $1 million, are now sprouting up in the Cambridge Square subdivision.

"It's developed differently than we first expected, but we continue to enjoy strong growth," Cheney says.

Cambridge Square tenants

Restaurants

* 1885 Grill and Tavern

* Davis Wayne’s

* Fulin’s Asian Cuisin

* Heaven & Ale

* Il Primo

* Lupi’s Pizza Pies

* Mixed Up Cup

* Mojo Burrito

* Shane’s Rib Shack

* Southern Burger Co.

* Tasty Donuts

* Wine Down Ooltewah

Retail and boutique shops

* Barn Door Boutique

* Board & Brush Creative Studio

* Spalon Three

* Sports Clips

* Yoga East

Medical and other offices

* Chattanooga Imaging

* Edward Jones

* Camp Big Fish

* Hawks Group, LLC

* Hudson Cook

* Hope House International

* Johnston Southern

* Legacy Real Estate & Development

* Linda Waters, CPA

* LMedX Services

* Morning Pointe/IHP

* Outreach Chattanooga

* Root: A Center for Optimal Living

* Tennova

* Sentef Medical Centers

* The Southern Agency

* Summit Physical Therapy

* Tedford Family Dentistry

 

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