River City Company's Kim White Says Upcoming Downtown Growth Is "Mind Blowing"

  • Thursday, August 6, 2015
Kim White
Kim White

Downtown Chattanooga's current growth is "mind-blowing," Kim White, River City Company executive director, told the Chattanooga Rotary Club on Thursday.

She noted there currently are 1,271 apartments downtown.

Ms. White said, "Over the next year and a half we are getting ready to add 1,500 new apartments, 1,331 student beds, 564 hotel rooms and several commercial office settings which will total over $400 million in private investment downtown."

She said, "For 30 years we’ve focused on building a vibrant downtown.
Now we are in the process of filling in many of the gaps with people who not only want to work and play downtown but live downtown as well.

"Chattanooga is a different city than we were 30 years ago.  Young people know there are career opportunities here. They choose Chattanooga as a place to put down roots and start companies. And as people retire and want to stay involved, our city with all its amenities is a place of choice."

This is her full address:

Cities are constantly changing and evolving and it’s an honor to lead an organization which has been part of our city’s growth and development for the past 30 years.

·        Just think 30 years ago there wasn’t an Aquarium or Riverwalk.   

·        Downtown wasn’t a place you wanted to visit, let alone live.  

·        30 years ago one of our city’s most beloved public places, the Walnut Street Bridge was closed and slated for demolition.

·        UTC was mostly a land-locked commuter school. 

·        And just think, 30 years ago we didn’t have a parking problem!  We’ve come a long way!

 As Downtown Chattanooga’s Economic Development Engine, River City Company has been at the table throughout all of these changes.

As a private non profit, we are constantly looking at:


How to fill the gaps in our downtown,

What tools are needed and

How we can work with our partners,

Which include Foundations, City and County government and Downtown stakeholders to make it happen.


Over the past 30 years we’ve performed or supported numerous roles.

 A developer of last resort,

 a convener,


a partner

and an implementer.


And while the role we play may change with a particular opportunity or circumstance, our focus has and will always be on creating a vibrant downtown.  A Downtown that stimulates the entire community’s economic, social and cultural growth.


In short, the work of River City Company is quite clear: to keep downtown working.

Much of this work wouldn’t be possible without the vision, leadership and funding of the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations.  Downtown Chattanooga would be a much different place without their commitment to our city.    We’re proud and honored to be their partner on downtown initiatives. I want to thank their leadership, staff and boards for their confidence and support.

I also want to acknowledge my board.  Their counsel and insight are critical components in keeping River City Company and our work relevant and effective.

 And last but not least, my staff.  The work we do takes place with a very small and dedicated team.   I’d like to ask my board and staff to stand up to be recognized. Thank you all for the role you play and what you do to keep moving our downtown forward.

This is such an exciting time for our city.  You can’t look at a top 10 list anymore and not see us on it.  Accolades, such as :


The Smartest,

One of the Coolest,

Best Outdoor Town EVER,

One of the Country’s Best Riverfronts

with one of the Worlds 10 Coolest Climbing Gyms. 


We are getting recognition from all fronts, even in categories I didn’t know existed, like #1 in Social Well Being. How in the world do they measure that?


The recognition and buzz about Chattanooga is great, but we’re not finished.  We’ve spent 30 years making sure we have a city built on lasting quality and authentic character. Now it’s a city that millennials, entrepreneurs, techies, baby boomers and retirees want to come and be part of.  You can feel the energy in our downtown.

The trend on moving back to cities is occurring all over the country and rental housing is in a growth mode.  In 2005 Multi Family, or rental housing accounted for just over 17 percent of all housing starts; in 2013 it accounted for 33 percent.  Why?

The 25-34 year old age group is focused on living near their peers.  They want to be socially engaged and live close to where they work.  They want to walk or cycle to work.  All of these things aim at high density, urban style living.

According to the Nielsen Company, 62 percent of millennials prefer to live in mixed use communities found in urban centers, closer to shops, restaurants and the office.  This generation, as well as retirees, desires a different kind of life.  They’re more interested in the amenities of the city. 

Great public spaces,

A walkable and bike-able city

Great local restaurants

Diverse people and activities with which they can participate


Isn’t that an accurate description of our downtown?


We have a unique window in time where the financial markets, the development opportunities and the demand for downtown living are coming together.  This has created the opportunity to fill some significant gaps in our city.  As the old country saying goes, “We better make hay while the sun shines”.  And we are!

In 2014 we commissioned a market study to help identify the development opportunities downtown and the tools needed to make them realities.   

The study showed an overabundance of office space.  We had enough supply to last until 2020 unless some of our underutilized buildings were converted to housing.  Conversely, we were under-supplied in housing, specifically,  rental housing for both students and our workforce.

And there were changes in our community that would enable our city to support additional housing.

UTC is no longer a commuter school. Sixth-six percent of students come from outside of Hamilton County and there is on campus housing for only 27 percent of them. 

The study said we could fill 3,500 units of pent up demand student housing and then 200 more units a year for the foreseeable future.

 It told us we were under-served with market rate rental housing with pent up demand for over 2300 units that could be absorbed immediately. 

 To highlight that fact, approximately 97 percent of the Downtown workforce commutes in from outside Downtown every workday. 

 Only three percent of our current Downtown workers live in downtown.  This compares to cities like, Charleston with 10 percent and Asheville with eight percent. 

A good rule of thumb when looking at cities with a vibrant, robust downtown is that at least 10% of a city’s employee base should be living and working downtown.  Using that figure, we could add almost 3,000 more residents who also work downtown.

When you look at the MSA as a whole, less than one percent live in the Urban Core, compared to 1.5 percent in Asheville and over two percent in Charleston. Those percentages don’t sound so big, but in raw numbers, it would be taking our downtown residential population from 3,700 to somewhere between 7,900 to 10,000.

There always are questions about having a Trader Joe’s or something similar downtown; those decisions are driven by numbers and concentration of people. We would need to add approximately 3,800 people to the Southside and the MLK area and dramatically increase the median house hold income.  We aren’t even close to having the numbers ...yet.

Housing density drives that type of retail investment.

Are we in danger of being over-saturated with housing?  The proof is in the numbers.  We’re not even close to reaching our target. 

Based on demand, we have the capacity to achieve the density needed for attracting great retail options.  The study showed when the pent up demand for housing is reached, we could absorb 900 additional units of housing a year for the foreseeable future, including student, rental and for sale units. 

Over the next 10 years if we work smart and capitalize on this opportunity, we could go from 3,700 downtown residents to over 12,000.

To achieve those residential numbers, the study, as well as developers, indicated tools such as tax incentives and parking structures were necessary to encourage developers to build rental housing in downtown. 

Because of that the City Council and County Commission implemented a PILOT program, which freezes taxes on rental housing in a defined downtown footprint. The City Council took recommendations from the Downtown and Housing Chattanooga Forward Task forces and added a requirement that 20% of the units be set aside as affordable. We work with the City and County and act as their partner in overseeing the process.

You’ve probably read about some of those projects in the news.  I want to thank the City Council and County Commission members who are here today for their leadership and partnership on this issue.  Anything involving tax incentives tends to be contentious and controversial and I know they get many questions from their constituents.  I’m here to tell you they don’t rubberstamp anything.  They all do their homework ask tough questions from me and the developer and require a strong business case to move these projects forward. 

It is an essential tool and has proven to be effective in getting developers to build the type of developments we need in our city.  But not all projects require tax incentives.  In fact, when you look at all the development occurring in the city, only five of those projects have come before them requesting a PILOT.

In 1993 River City Company developed the first downtown rental housing in over 20 years.  We had to be engaged because we couldn’t get a private developer. We also had a difficult time convincing lenders to believe that  

anyone would want to live downtown.  My, how times have changed!  We’ve built a great city and now people really want to come!

We are busy at work.  Working along side other partners, with community input, planning for the future of downtown. 

 Over 600 people in the community participated in a visioning session to identify potential opportunities to fill the empty buildings and bring new life to City Center.

These are the fruits of those efforts.   Development is underway in all parts of our downtown and over the next two years you will see an incredible transformation.

This is a snapshot of a downtown aerial, highlighted in yellow are projects either underway, or in process.  The dotted areas are early in the process and the green highlights park and public space improvements.  The circle is the Innovation District.  The District overlaps MLK/UTC, City Center and Southside and is a huge driver of the demand for housing.

Let’s now look at the development in each district.

The Southside

 Highlighted by the Choo Choo Redevelopment with new restaurants and entertainment venues along with a 97 unit Apartment Conversion

 A reimagined 14th Street that could be closed for festivals and events

  And an unbelievable 7 Acre Development Opportunity.  For years the Choo Choo was just a tourist destination.  Now they are connecting to our city in a tangible way with restaurants, outdoor seating and downtown housing.

 Main and Market with 68 apartments and 10k sq ft of retail which will be completed this fall.

A $23 million investment on Chestnut Street with 210 units which will break ground next year.

for a total of $73 million dollars in investment and 524 Market Rate Apartments

This really puts an exclamation mark on all the time, energy and investment on the Southside over the past few years.

 City Center is where you will be seeing the most significant change. 

 This is the map of the City Center Plan, highlighting the identified redevelopment opportunities.  We have 10 new developments occurring, along with public space improvements to Broad Street, Patton Parkway and Miller Plaza and Park.

 First the Tomorrow Building.  Under construction with 41 micro units and new retail and restaurant space.

 The recently announced 700 Block.  A $28 million, 10-story building with 125 apartments, 22k sq feet of retail, 22k of office and a floor of parking that connects to the current SunTrust garage.  This development will break ground in October.

 Chattanooga Bank Building slated to be a 160 room A Loft hotel that will start construction in May 2016 and a redevelopment of the Maclellan Building to 90 apartments with retail on the first floor.  Two of our most beautiful historic buildings in the city.

The Clemmons Building.  Under construction with 51 apartments.

The Mayfield Annex.  We are working with the County and have just put out an RFQ for redevelopment.  This could be a great housing redevelopment.

The Defoors are making a major investment in downtown with Gold Building, slated to become a Westin Hotel with construction beginning in the fall. There is now an addition of ground floor convention/meeting space that not reflected in this rendering.

 Along with the Westin, major building and street improvements and enhancements to 8th Street will totally change the look and feel of this area and make it a destination location for festivals and events.

With all the housing going into the Center of the City, there’s never been a better time to focus on public spaces and making sure our parks and green spaces are active.

  The city has committed to a re-envisioned Miller Park District which includes Miller Plaza and Patten Parkway.  This is just an example of WHAT could occur in both those areas

 Patten Parkway

 A firm from New Orleans is leading the design for the Miller Park District and I encourage you to come out and give input at one of the public forums and workshops. Thursday August 13th from 6-7:30 or Friday August 14th from 8:00-9:30 am or 12:00-1:30 at the Pavilion in Miller Plaza

 This fall you will see a re-envisioned Broad Street. Giving us a way to connect and move through the city in ways that use feet and non-motorized means of transportation.

  All of this housing, enhanced public space and making the city more walkable and bike-able ties right in the Innovation District.

A district that is all about connectivity and creative collisions and the sharing of ideas.  This district has the highest concentration of innovative technology workforce in the city.  Workers who want to walk to work, live and play right in the heart of the city. 

 With the Edney Innovation Center at one end housing CoLab and the Enterprise Center and

The McGauleys' 701 Building at 7th and Cherry and everything in between with what Lamppost Group brings to the table with the tech startup community adds to $149 million in investment, which includes office improvements, 333 new market rate apartments and 475 hotel rooms

  UTC/MLK, which includes both Vine Street and MLK

On MLK, behind Champy’s, the Douglas Heights Development will bring 690 student beds. They have a second phase of an additional 600 bed planned.

In addition to the new development, we want to make sure there is encouragement and support for existing property owners.  To do this, RCC is working with MLK property owners on façade grants, retail recruitment assistance to insure that MLK retains a diverse mix of residents and students.

An RFQ has just gone out on the 400 Block of MLK for a mixed use development and an opportunity for a gateway to the UTC campus on Douglas.

River City partnered with Unum over the last year in helping develop a Master Plan for their properties and together worked with UTC to incorporate the campus’s planned new student housing.

This slide shows a concept of the vision for Vine street looking toward Georgia Avenue.

UTC’s proposed housing looking toward the library will have 600 parking spaces below the development along with 600 beds of housing and a Barnes and Noble satellite location on the corner. 

The Fleetwood Coffee Building currently undergoing redevelopment with 38 additional units of housing and the Arts Build’s new location right in the middle of it all.

Total investment in this district $130 million, 336 Market rate units and an additional 1331 Student housing beds

The Riverfront

Vision Hospitality’s Boutique Hotel on Walnut is underway with 90 additional hotel rooms

And with that will bring Improvements to Walnut where the Walnut Street Bridge and Holmberg Bridge come together.

The Riverfront is also booming with the Cameron Harbor Development

And an expanded Riverwalk and

This development adds 235 Market Rate Apartments and 71 Single Family homes

Which brings the total investment to $79 million

The Northshore has an additional 84 Market Rate Apartments with

Vision Hospitality’s entrance into the rental housing market

New investments total $14 million

Because there is so much going on in the housing market and there’s not one place to find out housing options, we have developed a website

Live in Downtown Chattanooga.com to provide a one stop, one source guide to all the options downtown that we will continue to update.

Currently we have 1,271 apartments downtown. 

Over the next year and a half we are getting ready to add 1,500 new apartments, 1,331 student beds, 564 hotel rooms and several commercial office settings which will total over $400 million in private investment downtown.  Let me say that again, $400 million.

I told you it was mind blowing, didn’t I?

So what does this all mean?

It means that for 30 years we’ve focused on building a vibrant downtown. Now we are in the process of filling in many of the gaps with people who not only want to work and play downtown but live downtown as well.

It means Chattanooga is a different city than we were 30 years ago.  Young people know there are career opportunities here. They choose Chattanooga as a place to put down roots and start companies. And as people retire and want to stay involved, our city with all its amenities is a place of choice.

These new investments mean we have new ways to engage with a great university and to connect UTC to the community and the community to UTC.

It means more retail and restaurant offerings.

These changes are reflective of the Chattanooga Way working and continuing to work. For decades, people from throughout our community helped build this great city and the challenge is to keep that drive and vision alive for future generations.

City Building is a significant and time consuming investment. Downtowns are never finished.  And in many ways, when you look toward the horizon, there are even greater opportunities in front of us.

Breaking News
HCSO Narcotics Detectives Seize $51,000 Worth Of Meth
  • 7/23/2024

Law enforcement officers seized a large amount of meth, along with other drug paraphernalia and cash at a residence on 3rd Avenue on Monday. Detectives with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s ... more

Latest Hamilton County Arrest Report
  • 7/23/2024

Here is the latest Hamilton County arrest report. (If your case is dismissed, just email us your name and date we ran it and we will promptly take off. Email to news@chattanoogan.com ) BARNETT, ... more

Operations At Chattanooga Airport Untouched By Global Software Glitch, But 29% Of Flights Were Cancelled
  • 7/22/2024

Friday’s global software glitch did not touch the airport’s own operations, said Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority President and CEO April Cameron, but 29 percent of CHA flights were ... more