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John Ross Building in Chattanooga's Riverfront Area Gets New Owner

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

Potential New Hub for a Restaurant, Hotel or Car Club

Chattanooga businessman Joe Palmer and a partner paid $3.2 million for the 60,000-square-foot building raised in 1929 that for many years was part of a former auto dealership on the block.

Perhaps the most novel possible use would recapture the building's automotive past and create a place on the second level to hold exotic cars and serve as a club for enthusiasts.

"We have deals pending for tenants, but nothing is set in stone and the building is available," Palmer said.

Benjamin Pitts of Herman Walldorf Commercial Real Estate said the new buyers like the building's location, noting that they've talked about putting four more levels on top of the structure.

"Their only limitation is the engineering of the building," he said.

Pitts said that about 40,000 vehicles a day go by the structure that sits on a corner, adding there are few buildings in Hamilton County with that much traffic going by.

"It's right there at one of the gateways of downtown," he said, citing its closeness to U.S. Highway 27. "It's right in the tourism part of downtown where it transitions into the business part of downtown."

Pitts said he last recalls the building served as record storage for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, but it has been empty at least since the former owners purchased it four or five years ago.

"It has a good potential to change downtown in a positive way," he said.

But, he estimated that redeveloping the building and putting in new electrical, plumbing, and heat and air-conditioning could reach into the "tens of millions" of dollars.

Amy Donahue, director of marketing and communication for River City Co., said the riverfront is a key part of downtown and a priority area for the nonprofit redevelopment group.

"It's exciting to see a plan for this building that will utilize the space from the ground level to the top floor," she said. "The building sits at an important gateway and intersection of our downtown, and we look forward to its renovation and seeing people utilize the space once again."

Palmer said one factor in the acquisition is that it sits in an opportunity zone, which targets specific underdeveloped census tracts and gives tax breaks to developers who invest in them.

"We see the development taking many shapes," he said. Palmer said work could take five years to finish out project plans.

"Our ultimate vision is the property is mixed use with a restaurant and entertainment on the lower floor," he said. A boutique hotel could work with additional floors, Palmer said. Office space is an option, said the owner of McKinnley Excavating who also has other real estate holdings.

Pitts said the structure is "an iconic building." He said he was told that the block initially held a Buick dealership and later became Newton Chevrolet, which eventually moved to Riverfront Parkway and West M.L. King.

"I feel like the new owners are capable and pretty creative," Pitts said.

Article from Times Free Press -

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