On a day in late fall, a walk on the Blue Goose Hollow extension of the ℹ️ Tennessee Riverwalk offers a different perspective of the city. From the view of the river flowing toward Lookout Mountain to the bend in the river at Cameron Harbor, this three-mile stroll alongside former industrial sites has become a great way to extend riverfront recreation and learn about area history.
Its connection to the downtown, just on the other side of Cameron Hill, is also flourishing. This once forgotten shantytown, where Bessie Smith sang for coins on the street corner as a child, is again in transition. In the 1950s, under the Olgiati administration the city received funding from the United States government for the Westside Urban Renewal project. Now, it is again being repurposed. The new mix of residential and commercial enterprise makes this evolutionary tale even more intriguing. A few voices are emerging to tell the story.
Kelly Subaru—Tim Kelly
One of the oldest companies still conducting and investing in its Westside business is ℹ️ Kelly Subaru. The area was redeveloped as the Golden Gateway in the late 1960s and by 1971, Kelly Cadillac was open for business. Although years later many car manufacturers wanted Kelly to move nearer the suburban population, the dealership stayed on at its riverfront location. The growth of the Subaru brand in the last decade seemed to fit the location and Chattanooga’s newly polished outdoor recreation persona. Owner Tim Kelly says, “The car business has changed because of the Internet, and as long as you’re not in an inconvenient location, there’s no problem.” That liberating fact and a passion for the city is why he invested $2.5 million in remodeling his dealership to make it more efficient and environmentally friendly. He is proud of the fact that the facility achieved Subaru Eco-Friendly Retailer certification by meeting the requirements in energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling, waste management and community involvement.
Kelly has been on the board of the ℹ️ River City Company for several years and he says that while the Westside has always been outside River City’s focus, he is interested to see how continued development by a variety of other players will affect the area.
Cameron Harbor—Buck Schimpf
After joining forces with ℹ️ Evergreen Real Estate a few years ago, developer Buck Schimpf’s team continued to craft the 23-acre residential anchor of Cameron Harbor, a resort-style development with multiple housing components on the banks of the Tennessee river. It includes a ℹ️ SpringHill Suites by Marriott, the city’s first actual riverfront hotel.
Schimpf spent years searching for just the right restaurant to complement the location. “I was insistent on finding a local, independent owner/operator with a notable track record. Scottie Bowman hit all the hot buttons, not only with her successful reputation, but her concept for ℹ️ Scottie’s on the River and The Barge Bar as well,” says Schimpf. Bowman is also the owner of ℹ️ The Big Chill Bar and Grill on Cherokee Boulevard.
Schimpf is excited about the restaurant project at Cameron Harbor, which is expected to open next March. ℹ️River Street Architecture’s Rob Fowler is working on the new restaurant’s design and ℹ️ Embark Construction Services owner Mike Kuebler is the general contractor.
“A boardwalk will be suspended over the riverbank and wrap around the restaurant. It will cantilever out and have both indoor and outdoor seating. It should be spectacularly unique,” adds Schimpf. “Boaters, Riverwalk patrons, hotel guests and around 1,000 residents within a stone’s throw will provide a ready base of customers.”
Those customers are both renters and condominium owners. Apartment homes across Riverfront Parkway are currently under construction by Evergreen and have been designed by ℹ️ Hefferlin + Kronenberg. Clif McCormick with HK believes residents will be pleased with the amenities, especially the location. He says, “The easy access to the river and downtown living cannot be understated.”
Chattanooga Whiskey—Tim Piersant
ℹ️ Chattanooga Whiskey’s new location on Riverfront Parkway opened in March, 2017. The company has remodeled the former Newton Chevrolet car dealership in an unprecedented way, transforming the 50,000-square-foot facility into a distillery. Already, it has produced 400 barrels of straight bourbon whiskey and by the end of the year, owner Tim Piersant expects to have 1,300 barrels, increasing that to 2,000 barrels next year.
Where the showroom once displayed the latest Chevy models, there will be a 5,000-square-foot event hall in the round, with capacity for 300 people. It is expected to be operational by November. There are 3,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet set aside for barrel storage.
The production space houses a water purification system, a 3K gallon cooker and fermentation system, two stills—a 30-foot continuous still and a pot still. After the distilling process, the whiskey is aged a minimum of two years in new American white oak barrels. Bottling is done by hand, on site. Piersant and Head Distiller, Grant McCracken are working to increase production to full capacity, as quickly as possible.
The riverfront project represents a $7 million investment and there are 29 investors in the business. The renovation of the old dealership building was challenging. “Most businesses don’t have the resources and vision to convert a large car dealership into a state-of-the-art distillery,” says Piersant. “I’m proud that we were able to repurpose a property like this one with all its history. It’s a great building and a beautiful piece of property.” He is also pleased to have the main facility only a mile away from CW’s experimental tasting and retail location on Market Street.
Newton Chevrolet heir to the property, Grant Law, along with Evergreen’s Cameron Harbor agents and investors, approached Chattanooga Whiskey with the idea of locating the distillery at the site. “They wanted a good neighbor for the Cameron Harbor community,” says Piersant.
Parkway Pourhouse—George Lewallen
Situated on the riverside is the old Jones Blair Paint building which will be repurposed as Parkway Pourhouse, a new restaurant by ℹ️ Tremont Tavern’s Dustin Choate and George Lewallen, and ℹ️ 1885’s Miguel Morales. The eatery, specializing in sandwiches and entrees with a hint of Cajun inspiration, will open in spring.
Evergreen partner, Hunter Connelly, had played basketball with Lewallen at Sewanee and approached the three restaurateurs about the possibility of creating a neighborhood pub for the Cameron Harbor community. “I walked away thinking, we can’t not do this,” says Lewallen. “We just thought the venture was too good.”
Thomas Palmer of ℹ️ Cogent Studio is redesigning the building for its new role.
River City Company—Amy Donahue
“We have close to $1,000,000,000 of private investment happening in Downtown Chattanooga with over 10% coming from this area, alone. The development of Blue Goose Hollow speaks volumes to the great asset the Tennessee River is for our urban environment,” says River City spokesperson Amy Donahue. “This concentrated pocket of growth and development shows how public investment like the expansion of the Riverwalk system can spur immense private investment.”
Donahue believes this continues the revitalization story of Chattanooga, from a dirty industrial city to a livable and scenic city—all stemming from efforts started decades ago. “This type of repurposing at the riverfront, from industrial use to residential and other active commercial and public uses, is something we know how to do as a city.”
As with other residential developments in downtown, she expects it will create “feet on the streets” especially after 5 p.m., with more retail, restaurants and service businesses—in general, a more active city because of the increase of residents.
Photography by Steven LLorca