[dropcap style=”square”]U[/dropcap]p a couple of flights of sturdy steps and through a wide doorway, the space opens to reveal a dim shell on the third floor of this Cherry Street building. Its exposed brick, timber framing, tall windows and lack of ductwork give away its advanced age. Yet the open floor showcases a sweeping view of the city’s rooftops, including the modern spires of the Tennessee Aquarium on one side and the classic gold-leafed Dome Building on the other.
When this covert space goes public in a few months, the rich hardwood floors will shine and energy efficient lighting from contemporary fixtures will highlight its new “industrial chic” décor and finishes.
“We’re tailoring these wonderful spaces for the market,” says Mike McGauley, owner of Fidelity Trust and co-developer, with his son Matt, of more than 60,000 square feet of commercial property in the City Center. Chattanooga’s central district is the focus of a formidable drive to revitalize and create new opportunity for a variety of companies that are looking for more than a place to hang a shingle. Since further development—in the form of retail stores, entertainment and restaurants—depend on an increase in downtown residents, there is a demand for affordable mixed-use properties, like there never has been before.
“Over the next several years we anticipate strong growth in the City Center. Our vision for the downtown is one of a 24/7 community,” says Matt McGauley. “The business base downtown must continue to grow, particularly in the tech arena.” He cites a number of new start-up companies that employ young people who want a live, work, play community. “As the residential base grows, so will retail, services, entertainment and dining segments of the market.”
Recently, the McGauleys have developed a vintage property at 631 Cherry Street that has been selected as the home of the newly formed law firm, Speek Webb Turner and Newkirk. Remembered by many Chattanoogans as the Home Plate restaurant, this building at the corner of Cherry and 7th Streets is sporting a sophisticated new look. With its location only one block from the courts building, it is an ideal spot for the firm. The partners have been working together for years, but have consolidated several offices with the goal of becoming a full-service firm.
“We were attracted by the location because it was near the court,” says attorney Jonathan Turner. The sleek interiors also got their attention. Exposed brick walls, alongside creamy painted surfaces and warm taupe carpets of recycled materials, blond hardwoods and high ceilings with contemporary lighting above airy common areas—all characterize the new offices. Traces of similarity to previous incarnations of the nearly 100-year-old facility are gone.
The building is really a part of the fabric of an earlier transition, with underground Chattanooga beneath it. After a series of devastating floods, beginning in 1867 through the turn of the century, Chattanooga, once a river trading post called Ross’s Landing, had to make changes.
After floods where the waters reached over 30-50 feet above the river’s normal banks, the townspeople steadily began to raise the street level from three to as much as 15 feet.
Gradually, Chattanooga filled in about four city streets—Market and Broad, and portions of Cherry and Chestnut—from the river to what is now M.L. King Boulevard. In time, a 40-block area of the city was raised almost one story. The building at 631 Cherry Street was built on top, as were many others.
“I was actually surprised that another firm hadn’t taken it already,” says Bill Speek, principal attorney, of the 6,000-square-foot building. “We are proud of this space and we have a good relationship with the developers.”
Their excitement over the renovation has been enhanced by the fact that thoughtful energy efficiencies have been included, and although the building is not expected to be LEED certified, it has the credentials for certification. River Street Architecture has helped the McGauleys with certifying the building on Cherry Street that houses its own company. The certification process takes time, is a significant investment and isn’t always right for every property.
Tech companies are as hot as Chattanooga’s Gig City reputation. Two of the six properties Fidelity Trust is preparing for occupancy are ideal for startups, in particular. The first floor of the Walden Building at 700 Market Street is currently leased to XMC, the second largest Xerox dealer in the United States. A new entrance has been designed and the second floor is being refurbished offering 3,000 square feet of open, unfinished space that will be built out this year. The plan is to cater to companies looking for energetic spaces that blend historic elements with contemporary finishes and fixtures.
The second is the McConnell building on East 7th Street. It is also a blank canvas for customization with two ground floor suites and a second floor walk-up. It represents another 8,000 square feet of space.
The 714 Cherry Street building was the first LEED certified commercial space in the city. It houses River Street Architecture on the first and second floors. The 4,000-square-foot third floor is being repurposed as residential space and will include a rooftop deck overlooking an existing green roof that was installed several years ago. Even the home of Fidelity Trust, next door to River Street is getting a makeover of its 10,000 square feet of space. Matt McGauley looks forward to these conversions and upgrades.
“There is nothing more sustainable than repurposing an older building, like this one,” says Matt. The McGauleys are proud of their family heritage in the city. Through four generations of family leadership, Fidelity Trust has offered real estate services to Chattanooga. Mike’s grandfather, John Crabtree, founded the company.
“My grandfather built 720 Cherry Street and it has been the home of our company since 1920,” he says. Even though the exterior has a classic early 20th century facade, the interiors are being redone in a contemporary style. Several original windows are being restored for natural light. The McGauleys’ plan includes a complete restoration of all their properties and an expansion of their combined downtown portfolio to include 150,000 square feet of mixed-use space over the next 10 years. They are directing much of the commercial development in the City Center, following through with redesigned spaces like the one at 631 Cherry Street, near the courthouse.
“The heart of our city, our downtown, has floundered while our bookends, the Southside and Riverfront, have flourished,” says Mike. “But, we’re bullish on revitalizing our City Center.”
Call Matt at 423-756-1071 for more information.
Story by Deborah Petticord. Photography by Dan Reynolds and Lindsey Mitchell.