Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Dave Codrea, left, owner of Greenleaf Partners, and James Whitehurst, owner of EM Holt Building Services, talk about the work to revamp the Lupton Building property on Georgia Avenue, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.

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Downtown building blocks


One of the city's most historic blocks is temporarily one of its least navigable, but the short-term inconvenience is more than worth it, said Ben Bowers, owner of the Pickle Barrel restaurant on Market Street.

"There's construction pain, but it's going to be great," said Bowers, whose restaurant has been a mainstay on the triangular south end of the Southern Express Building on Market Street for nearly 40 years. "I like the changes."

With the renovation of the six-story Lupton Building at 1010 Georgia Ave., which kicked off in December, three of the most historically significant buildings — and closest neighbors — in the Stone Fort Land Company Historic District are getting new leases on life.

The wedge-shaped Southern Express building has undergone a nearly yearlong, $4.4 million overhaul, and will become the headquarters of TransCard at the end of March. Just across the street, Patten Towers, an 11-story apartment building at the corner of 11th and Market streets, is deep in the midst of a $10 million makeover.

"This is exactly what we advocate and what we want to have happen," said Ann Gray, executive director of Cornerstones Inc., a local historic preservation nonprofit.

The Lupton Building, completed in 1910, had been used as a storage facility since 1991. The new owners will spend months on demolition work, knocking down old drywall that had covered the exposed brick and wood support pillars, taking out drop ceilings to reveal lofty, beamed ceilings, and scraping up linoleum to expose wood floors.

"We're not taking out anything that's historical or salvageable," said Dave Codrea, whose Atlanta-based Greenleaf Partners LLC bought the building for $2.6 million in November 2019. "No one is excited about what's in there."

The Lupton Building will become office space with open floor plans, kitchens on each floor and lockers and showers in the basement. Greenleaf will invest about $5 million in the renovation — and reap the benefits of buying and renovating in an Opportunity Zone that offers capital gains tax breaks to investors.

"We won't have capital gains tax on the building when we sell it, as long as we hold it 10 years," Codrea said.

Financial incentives are an important way to attract investors willing to take on the challenges of bringing old buildings back to life, Gray said.

"It's about layering of economic opportunity," she said. "These renovations aren't easy, and they can be expensive."

The Southern Express Building, purchased for $1.7 million in 2016, will have a high-tech interior that contrasts with its historic exterior, said TransCard President Chris Fuller. The four-story building was completed in 1894.

"We're taking this really old building, one of the first commercial buildings in Chattanooga, and turning it into this very high-tech building," he said. 'It will be unique to Chattanooga."

Patten Towers, which opened as the 251-room Hotel Patten in 1908, was converted to residences in 1978. In July 2018, a San Francisco-based housing investment company bought the building for $14.2 million.

Belveron Real Estate is working with Nashville-based Elmington Capital Group to upgrade the 221-unit affordable housing apartment complex.

Contact Mary Fortune at or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.