What About Tomorrow?

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A communal kitchen serves each floor with dining space for eight to ten people.

Built in 1888 as a boarding house, the newly repurposed ℹ️ Tomorrow Building is quickly adding tenants in Chattanooga’s liveliest district. Its long history includes a couple of later transformations. The building was converted to the Ross Hotel in 1925, and from 1973 to 1998, everyone knew it as Yesterday’s restaurant and bar. Hence the inspiration for the new name.

For years it sat empty until Lamp Post Properties began working with local contractors to create co-living space that provides much needed housing in the Innovation District. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Market Square/Patten Parkway Historic District. The district includes the site of the old city market and an early Coca-Cola Bottling Company. In 2013, Cornerstones, a non-profit historic preservation organization, did the engineering study to determine the stability of the building for redevelopment.

“We’re excited that the adaptive reuse of this building will remain residential, but with a completely new style,” says Ann Gray, Cornerstones, Inc. director. “This is the level of housing we need in the Innovation District—affordable and flexible.”

Furnished studio and one-bedroom apartments are available with flexible leases.

The property is animating Patten Parkway and Georgia Avenue, as planned, with over 15 of the 39 micro-units already rented since its opening early December of this
past year. Lamp Post Properties is the real estate management arm of venture incubator Lamp Post Group. Along with Chattanooga’s community of startups and innovative leaders, Lamp Post Properties is strategically building out “a dense environment of vibrant, creative spaces that will continue to ensure the future success of Chattanooga and its diverse and talented community,” according to Lamp Post Properties spokesperson, Stephanie Hays.

The redesign team for the Tomorrow Building included ArtTech Design Group, a local architecture and interior design firm, and Smart Furniture Studio interior designers, Amy Williams and Leslie Morales. Popular area mural artists were contracted, too— Seven did the inside murals and Kevin Bate did the exterior ones. Rondell Crier of Studio Everything designed and produced the metal room numbers with the help of two high school apprentices. Intech installed the security system and contractor T.U. Parks did the buildout. The four-story building now has elevators, communal kitchens, multifunctional workspaces and a third-floor laundry room with five washing machines and dryers. There are wall-mounted bike racks near the elevators on each floor—a plus, since no parking is provided for residents. There are nearby garages for cars needed periodically and even charging stations for electric cars, but residents of the Tomorrow Building will be able to access everything they need by walking or riding. This appeals to the Millennial demographic, says Hays, who is charged with programming for the building.

“There is nothing new about co-living,” says Hays. “People have been doing it for hundreds of years.” In this case, instead of living over the family shop, young people of all types can run their businesses (many online) and brainstorm ideas with their peers without sacrificing social discourse or privacy. Reminiscent of dormitory living, flexible leases (three, six and 12-months, usually) with amenities like super-fast internet service and a central downtown location mean new residents are being attracted like moths to a flame.

A mural by Seven brightens the dining area.

“You can feel the vitality here,” says Gina Owensby, “both in the city and in the building.” At 57, she recently retired from a military career and was looking to downsize. Originally from Chattanooga, Owensby knows she isn’t typical of the demographic the Tomorrow Building draws, but the location and the flexible lease make it possible for her to reacquaint herself with the city, until she knows exactly what she wants. She is enjoying the high ceilings and the corner balcony of her apartment.

ℹ️ Chattanooga Film Festival Director, Chris Dortch, is exactly the type of resident the building was designed for and he will run the annual festival from his digs in the Tomorrow Building. Another venture, ℹ️ The Palace Picture House, owned and operated by Dortch and associate Rose Cox, will open temporarily on the ground level of the building until moving to its permanent home in the CO-OP on Cherry Street this summer. “The entire idea of the Tomorrow Building and what it represents for a growing number of young professionals and creatives is something we wanted to be part of,” says Dortch. Apparently, the energy is contagious.

“I chose the Tomorrow Building in the hopes of meeting other transplants and locals to have a little bit of a built-in community, since I moved to Chattanooga without really knowing anyone,” says new resident, Cate Irvin. “Coming home to an empty house can be hard when you’re new in a city and the Tomorrow Building provided a bit of privacy with an option for socialization.” Irvin has a three-month lease. Relocating here from New Orleans, she was attracted to the building because of its central, downtown location and the short-term lease options. She doesn’t own a car, so being located where she has walking and public transit options is helpful. She is looking forward to watching the community grow and participating in Tomorrow Building activities. That’s where Hays comes in.

An open atrium brightens the interior.

“Part of my role is to make sure there is plenty going on,” says Hays. “We have regular information sessions called check-ins, and on Thursdays, usually a communal meal.” The first big meal in February was prepared by the Weekly Fig, a private membership association for locally-grown and sustainable food. They served about a dozen people. Each floor has an announcement board and the activities are all part of the Tomorrow Building brand.

The 300 to 500 square-foot apartments start at $895 per month, utilities included. There are two short-term units that are reserved for use, often by visiting accelerator teams, or those considering the move.

The ground floor has been reserved for retail and restaurant use. Formerly Yesterday’s, the big corner space will become home to Virginia-based Jack Brown’s Burger Joint, and next door, Southern Squeeze has relocated its popular beverage shop here from ℹ️ Miller Plaza. These additions will enhance some of the changes at both Miller Plaza and Patten Parkway that city collaborators are fueling. “The Parkway will be redesigned in a way that will definitely be more pedestrian friendly and easy to close and use for special events,” says Amy Donahue of River City Company.

For developers who are interested in historic buildings, it is important to remember that these properties are often eligible for tax credits, so that 20 percent of the total renovation cost maybe deducted. “We do everything we can to help developers reclaim and spare these historic structures,” says Gray. She is interested in the Tomorrow Building and its progress as an example of what may be accomplished. “This is a great model that can be replicated here and in other cities.”

For more information visit tomorrowbuilding.com

Photography by Karen Culp

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Debbie is the retired Editor of Chattanooga Magazine, and ongoing contributor.

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