Just north of downtown Chattanooga lies the 6 1⁄2 square mile municipality known as Red Bank. For decades this quiet community suffered from a lackluster image—an image that resulted in stagnant, if not diminished, economic development. However, for the past few years Red Bank’s image has experienced a makeover and is making its way to becoming the newest area of Hamilton County to experience a renaissance.
Local business owner Carter Wexler half-jokingly calls Red Bank the new “Red Shore,” due to its recent rapid growth and proximity to the popular North Shore. “We have a lot of young professionals in their 20s and 30s who live here and work downtown,” said Wexler who, with his wife Melissa, opened ℹ️ Big Frog Brewery on Dayton Boulevard in 2013. “Red Bank is convenient to everything, there’s an abundance of affordable housing, and it’s a quiet, secure place. Plus, the taxes are lower.”
Wexler’s dream of opening a brewery began in Chattanooga. However, when red tape and expenses forced him to look elsewhere, Red Bank Mayor John Roberts was standing at the ready.
Roberts jumped at the chance for Red Bank to become home to its first brewery since prohibition. He even called Wexler with a list of potential buildings for purchase. “We want to be able to support small business owners,” said Roberts. He said the key to growth is reducing government regulations as much as possible and streamlining the process for new businesses to easily set up shop in Red Bank.
This proactive approach to business recruitment was far from the norm prior to the current Mayor’s term. When Roberts took office in 2012 he traveled door to door, speaking to residents and business owners about his vision for the town. Many people scoffed at his goal of reinventing Red Bank’s image. “Some people laughed at me and said good luck,” said Roberts. Five years later, not only have residents stopped laughing; they are wholeheartedly on board with the Mayor’s plan.
Angie Jennings, co-owner of ℹ️ Play Dog Excellent in Red Bank, calls Mayor Roberts a great cheerleader for the town. “He’s from Red Bank; he loves Red Bank, and he’s been very instrumental in leading the charge,” said Jennings. “It’s been a group effort, and right now neighborhood pride is very strong.”
Jennings, who also serves on the Red Bank Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, believes the City has worked hard to literally clean up its image by adding sidewalks and welcome signs and by proactively searching for businesses to ll empty storefronts.
One of those vacant storefronts that has been recently occupied now belongs to ℹ️ Bread & Butter, an artisanal bakery that opened in December.
Neither of Bread & Butter’s co-owners are Chattanooga natives; Victoria Capdevielle hails from New York, while her partner Alex Whitman grew up in Seattle. They individually chose the Tennessee Valley area for its well-known rock climbing, but when Alex’s baking career started to take off they decided to open a brick and mortar storefront.
Capdevielle said they chose the former Baskin-Robbins location on Dayton Boulevard because of its affordability, while still being a convenient drive to downtown Chattanooga and North Shore. She believes the timing is right for new businesses in Red Bank, especially boutique retail stores and restaurants.
“It seems like people want this change, and I’m hopeful,” said Capdevielle. She says this is a critical time for Red Bank’s revitalization efforts, especially with competition from other burgeoning areas like Highland Park and Southside. “We need to continue to beautify the area and give it more character.”
A consistent theme that emerges from residents and business owners alike is Red Bank’s affordability compared with other communities within Hamilton County.
Kristy Fairchild, a broker with ℹ️ Live It! Realty, is a 20 year resident of Red Bank. She says she has always believed in the community’s potential and is excited that others are now getting on board with the revitalization efforts.
Fairchild, along with her husband Eric, moved to Red Bank in the mid-1990s from North Chattanooga. They liked the bungalow style of homes in Red Bank that were both affordable and situated within a quiet community conducive to starting a family.
When they sold their first Red Bank home six years ago, Kristy and Eric doubled their investment. “And that was before the boom that is happening now,” said Fairchild.
That boom has been a catalyst for creating a much more competitive residential real estate market in Red Bank. “The average days for a house on the market now is about 17,” said Fairchild. “Price per square foot is around $100, which is about a 15% increase over a few years ago.” And most of the homes she has recently closed have sold for above asking price.
According to Zillow.com, the median home price in Red Bank is $129,000, which is up more than six percent over the past year. Compared to the median home price of $208,000 in the North Shore area, Red Bank’s appeal is understandable for many potential homebuyers.
Fairchild sites the strength of the City’s plan and vision for Red Bank for the market’s growth. “The Mayor has been very proactive about enforcing regulations,” said Fairchild. An example of these regulations is holding regular condemnation hearings to alleviate neighborhoods of unsightly or potentially dangerous dwellings.
One of Mayor Roberts’ goals upon taking office was to update Red Bank’s zoning ordinances, something that had not been accomplished since the 1970s. A major result from the new zoning ordinances, completed in January 2015, was defining a central business district. This district officially runs from Newberry Street on the south end of town to Meadowbrook Drive in the north.
Roberts says the City is being very strategic about what types of businesses are recruited for the new district. “The City wants to create an atmosphere that promotes walkable shopping areas.” This includes businesses like Bread & Butter, the Meeting House coffee shop, and locally owned antique stores. There are certain types of establishments that are not allowed, such as check into cash stores and pawn shops.
Low crime rates and a small town atmosphere are big selling points for recruiting both homebuyers and business developers, according to Roberts. “The Board of Commissioners proactively works to clean up the neighborhoods,” said Roberts. In recent years, the City has partnered with local churches, high school students, and nonprofits like Widows Harvest to assist elderly residents who are either on fixed incomes or not physically able to handle their homes’ upkeep.
“If you want the crime to go away, you clean up the neighborhoods,” said Roberts. “Then the retail comes because the property values have gone up and this raises the per capita income.”
Of course, there are always challenges to even the best-laid plans. Roberts concedes that Red Bank will never be able to compete with downtown Chattanooga in business recruitment, but he also says that’s okay.
“We’re trying to keep Red Bank as small town as possible,” said Roberts. “That’s part of its charm.” Although the Mayor will leave office in 2018 and does not plan to run for re-election, he sees a very bright future for his City.
“The economy would have to drop tremendously to slow down growth in Red Bank,” said Roberts. His vision for the next decade includes more commercial development in the central business district, increased single-family residential development, and more restaurants and retail shops. And, of course, keeping the small town ambiance.
“It’s like Friday Night Lights here,” said Kristy Fairchild. “You feel very connected in Red Bank, and it’s safe. We’re only five minutes from downtown [Chattanooga], yet we’re our own small town.” And it’s that simplicity that might just be making Red Bank the newest hot spot in town.