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Contributed photo from Metropolitan Ministries / The former Choo Choo Printing facility at 4001 Rossville Blvd. will soon be redeveloped as an Impact Hub to house a half dozen social service agencies. Metropolitan Ministries bought the 10,233-square-foot structure and will relocate from its existing offices on McCallie Avenue by late summer, pending city approval of the new complex.

Metropolitan Ministries, the 40-year-old church-sponsored program that has helped thousands of Chattanoogans pay their bills and put food on the table, is moving south.

MetMin will relocate from its McCallie Avenue site, which lacks enough parking, to a renovated former Choo Choo Printing facility on Rossville Boulevard and will be one of a half dozen social service agencies offering services in a new "Impact Hub" by late summer.

"We're trying to better serve our guests in a location where poverty is deep and sticky, and to do so in collaboration and cooperation with like-minded service agencies as partners," said Rebecca Whelchel, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries for the past 14 years. "In addition, the new facility will be large enough to accommodate programmatic, collaborative and service growth for at least the next 15 years."

Whelchel said MetMin has outgrown its current site at 1112 McCallie Ave., where it has been located for nearly 15 years but recently lost part of its parking facilities and is in violation of several fire codes. As Highland Park has attracted wealthier renters and home buyers, Whelchel said, the ministry is eager to locate nearer to where many of those in need reside.

"We like to go to places where most people don't," Whelchel said.

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This drawing shows plans for how the 10,233-square-foot warehouse building on Rossville Boulevard will be divided into gathering space, classrooms, offices, a kitchen complex, clinic space and offices. / Contributed drawing from Metropolitan Ministries

Almost 55% of the residents who live around the new location live at or below the poverty level, and unemployment is well above the region average, Whelchel said. The Rossville Boulevard site is also served by a CARTA bus route with buses arriving every hour at Rossville Avenue and 40th Street.

Last year, MetMin bought the 10,233-square-foot structure at 4001 Rossville Blvd. — a half-century-old factory and warehouse that has not been actively used by a business since 2001, Whelchel said. Along with a nearby residence that is being demolished, the new site will have more space and parking and be able to facilitate plans for the Impact Hub once the structure is reconstructed as part of a projected $1.2 million upgrade to the complex.

"This first critical step lays the necessary foundation for the establishment of an integrative on-site ecosystem of service and response by and among a woven cohort of service providers," Whelchel said.

To facilitate the Impact Hub, the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission this month voted to lift the zoning requirement limiting the facility to be used only as a warehouse or machine shop. The Chattanooga City Council will consider the zoning change next month to allow the social service organizations to use the building.

The Impact Hub will provide space for MetMin and other tenants, including another Cempa Community Care clinic, an office for the Love's Arm ministry to victims of sexual abuse, the city's Office of Family Empowerment, 4 Paws Pantry which provides temporary support for pets, and the Bail Project, which is planning to open a new office in Chattanooga.

The facility will offer space for each agency along with common classroom, meeting rooms and kitchen facilities.

MetMin began in the James Building and later moved to Christ Church Episcopal at Douglas Street and McCallie Avenue before moving to its current site at 1112 McCallie Ave.

Last year, MetMin offered assistance to about 11,500 persons.

Whelchel said MetMin is developing plans to convert its current site on McCallie Avenue into a thrift store targeted at students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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

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Photo by Dave Flessner / The warehouse and factory on Rossville Boulevard, which was once used by Choo Choo Printing, will soon be converted into an "Impact Hub" for Metropolitan Ministries and other social service agencies.
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