Hamilton County purchased land at the former Alstom site in 2013 to extend the Tennessee Riverwalk from downtown Chattanooga to St. Elmo Avenue. Now, new developers in the area want about three acres back and have agreed to a land swap with the county that will add to the multi-use trail system.
The developers will leave the existing riverwalk in place but wanted to use the rest of the land to create a riverfront park for a major new downtown development area in the city's west end. County leaders will use their new land to create a trailhead that connects to the system and includes parking. The trailhead will be along a future Main Street extension.
"The bottom line from Hamilton County's perspective is we have a long strip that was acquired, and the only plan was to put the riverwalk through there. The riverwalk has been built, so there are not further investment plans for that property," Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb said. "What we stand to gain with this conversion is an additional amenity with a connection to the riverwalk that we would not have had otherwise. So in my opinion, this is a win-win."
The land being exchanged is where the riverwalk cuts through the former Alstom site along the Tennessee River. It is about a quarter-mile south of the Blue Goose Trailhead at Canal Street and West 9th Avenue.
The west side of the property — which was bought by the county with a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation grant — will go to the developers. An adjacent lot on the east side of the multi-use path will go to the county. The TDOC grant required the land to remain public in perpetuity. If not, the county was required to convert a parcel of equal value to public use.
Now there's little more than a storage shed on the lot the developers are receiving. However, it is on the banks of the Tennessee River in an area they plan to turn into a park. The county's new property has a sidewalk, gazebo, trees and open space. It was originally built as a park for employees at the facility and will anchor the new trailhead.
"I've watched industry come and go," said Doye Cox, with Barge Design Solution, which is overseeing the project. "We went from a very old industrial city to a place that just about anyone with any sense wants to live. This is all making it better."
Chattanooga real estate developer Jimmy White and local hotelier Hiren Desai bought the Alstom manufacturing parcel for $30 million in 2018. Alstom constructed the $500 million site in anticipation of a renaissance in the nuclear industry that never came. The project was later abandoned.
The west end development is being touted as a new downtown area to compliment the city's existing infrastructure. Project plans are being created by the Florida-based company that originally laid out plans for Chattanooga's Southside.
Developers picture the area having homes, apartments, a music venue, retail stores, hotels, company headquarters and more.
The full proposed development could bring $2 billion to $3 billion in investments to the site, planners said, and should take about 20-25 years to complete. It would include several measures to preserve the land's features, including the addition of more than 1,500 trees. It includes several public spaces and recommends "innovative" stormwater devices that can double as both landscaping and water features, including a canal through the center of the mixed-use development.
"This entire project is an attempt to create a space where you can live, work and play, so amenities like green spaces and river access are perfect," said Jill Allen, COO of Urban Story Ventures, which represents the developers.