Officials are hoping locals will enjoy recent updates to the Glenn Miller Gardens at the Chattanooga Choo Choo as construction efforts continue on the property.
Choo-Choo President Adam Kinsey hopes recent updates to the historic gardens — added lawn space, new retail operations and a more inviting atmosphere — will entice more residents to treat the property like a public park.
“The gardens, in my opinion, look better than they’ve ever looked,” Kinsey said on a recent tour of the property. “We’ve made it more open and inviting and opened up the area. The whole lawn has been expanded.”
Workers helped clean up the fish pond and added rocking chairs throughout the area. Four train cars are getting a new coat of paint that matches the original 1930s and 1940s Pullman Train Cars.
Recently, the gardens were used for the BrewSkies beer and food festival and the venue will become the new host of the Tennessee Whiskey Festival on Sept. 15. The area is also home to Ice on the Landing, an outdoor ice skating rink, during the winter months.
Kinsey said they’re working on permanent measures to allow visitors to enjoy alcoholic beverages throughout the property. In 2017, The City Council approved open containers on Station Street adjacent to the Choo-Choo grounds.
“We’re working to make it legal for all businesses to bring beer and cocktail in the gardens, too,” he said.
Several of the train cars are already occupied with unique retail businesses. American Draft is a self-pour tap room and Refinery423 Mercantile sells a curated selection of men’s items. Escape Experience Chattanooga will debut The Runaway Train Transport experience in late May.
Kinsey said he’s open to more retail operations in the available train cars.
“We really want to make sure it’s the right fit for the entire property,” he said. “There’s a great opportunity to do retail and animate the space. It’s almost like a retail incubator.”
In addition, to update to the garden space, a new entryway from the Grand Dome to the gardens is nearly complete. Located in the former restaurant space, the idea was to create a convenient funnel for people from Frothy Monkey into the garden space.
Kinsey said workers were able to remove a 1972 concrete slab to reveal the original 1906 concrete floor.
Construction is also continuing on new storefronts where the former Victorian Lounge and Roosevelt banquet areas were. As workers uncovered decades-old carpeting this week, they discovered an original terrazzo tile floor.
An enormous restaurant space has been cleared on the same side of the property. Kinsey said the space offers 5600 sq. ft. of interior and 6,000 sq. ft. of exterior space. During the clearing, the original ceiling from 1906 was discovered underneath a dropped ceiling.
Kinsey would not say what restaurant would occupy the space, but he did say that he waited for the right opportunity.
“We told six or seven restaurants that wanted to be in this space ‘no,’ he said. “Again, we’ve been very careful on the tenant mix on the property. We want more local and authentic businesses that not just our residents will enjoy, but that the neighborhood will enjoy.
The new restaurant space will offer three patio-spaces, two of which will face the Choo-Choo Gardens.