Leaders with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce are working on a new business recruitment strategy-aiming to draw companies downtown.
“Because of BlueCross and their expansion on Cameron Hill-they left a lot of office space,” Charles Wood, vice president of economic development with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “That’s a new market for us. The chamber hasn’t really gone after that, and part of that was just because the space didn’t exist before.”
In the past, chamber leaders have focused on and been successful at recruiting manufacturing, but now, chamber officials will join leaders of downtown economic development company River City Company in an effort to fill up vacant downtown offices.
Downtown Chattanooga currently has between 400,000 and 600,000 thousand square feet of office space open, President of River City Company Kim White said.
That’s been whittled down in the past 18 months or so from 1 million square feet, she said.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the remaining space is full of new offices with people working there.
Some of the space has been taken over by businesses such as Access America in Warehouse Row and Lamp Post Group in the Loveman’s Building.
But other buildings, such as the Gold Building, Chattanooga Bank Building and Maclellan Building, are off the market and being held for other uses, such as potential sites for hotels or apartments.
And there is room in Liberty Tower, the Krystal Building and the Tallan Building.
White said she hopes the Chattanooga Bank Building will be turned into hotels or apartments and that the Maclellan Building will be an Indigo Hotel.
Having new owners with ideas about what to do with the space is one step.
But there are still challenges ahead before some of these buildings can be transformed into lively businesses.
For example, parking is an issue, John Healy, managing director with Sperry Van Ness/Elder Healy Commercial, said.
Developers and owners of downtown buildings have to think about the long-term viability of parking. And there can’t be a hotel or apartment without somewhere for people to park.
“Parking can be a deal killer, or it can make a deal,” he said. “The truth is, it’s probably a challenge in any downtown or growing central business district.”
For Wood, part of the challenge is in getting business leaders to see Chattanooga as an ideal place for them to locate.
And leaders sometimes think of Chattanooga as more of a manufacturing hub. They forget about the other industries, Wood said.
So he and his team are working to change that.
“[They know] Chattanooga, but they know us because of Alstom and Komatsu and VW and those kinds of things,” he said. “They don’t know us because of the BCBS headquarters.”
White said there is a perception problem about parking and the cost of locating downtown.
And she said that people don’t realize until they are downtown all the benefits, such as being in the midst of a vibrant network of people.
But although there are challenges in recruiting, White said that the good news is that there is an “abundance of great buildings.”
“We’ve got competitive rents. We’ve got the vacancy,” he said. “The bright side of this is we have the capacity in downtown Chattanooga that, if a large corporation wants to make an impact and move to Chattanooga, we have the space for them. We can do the deal. There are some great opportunities for companies that aren’t currently downtown.”
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