On the banks of the Tennessee River, Urban Story Ventures is planning a 120-acre mixed-use, $4 billion development called The Bend that promises to enliven downtown Chattanooga — a city that already has a vibrant arts and entertainment scene.
Urban Story purchased the land for the project in 2018. The site originally housed iron and steel mills, and most recently served as a manufacturing campus for Alstom Power, which closed in 2016. The site was remediated in later years. Since acquiring the property, Urban Story has rezoned the property and worked with a team of consultants — including city planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners — to reimagine the property and incorporate it into the existing infrastructure. The company has spent the past few years working on a precise plan for the usage of the land and going through the zoning process. The first phase will have a multifamily component consisting of 700 to 800 units, including apartments and condominiums. The company plans to break ground on the retail district, which will ultimately comprise 200,000 square feet, that is slated for 2025 and will be located steps away from Chattanooga’s largest indoor/outdoor entertainment venue.
“Chattanooga is listed as one of the top cities to live in today,” says JP Evans, director of leasing at Urban Story Ventures. “That wasn’t the case in the 1970s, when were ranked as one of the dirtiest cities in America. The city has done an amazing job of cleaning itself up. Today, we are ranked as one of the top ‘outdoor’ destinations in the United States. The city’s natural features — mountains, streams, lakes and rivers — are its greatest assets.”
Chattanooga has two strong retail destinations, with Hamilton Place Mall and Warehouse Row topping the offerings. Urban Story hopes The Bend will complement those offerings by offering more entertainment, dining, nightlife and leisure retail options. Evans has had conversations with several eatertainment concepts who are active in Atlanta or Nashville who are interested in expanding to the Chattanooga market. There is a lot of leakage from the market for many brands and stores who can’t find the right location. Evans says he is seeking to fill the project with a strong mix of local, regional and national retailers, restaurants and entertainment concepts that differentiate the project.
Because Chattanooga sees approximately 15.6 million visitors per year, The Bend will also be a big destination for tourists looking for shopping, dining and entertainment during their visits.
“Many concepts in Nashville and Atlanta see Chattanooga as a gap they need to fill,” says Evans. “We see the future of retail as being more entertainment-driven.”
As well, while Chattanooga has some retail and restaurants along the river, the total riverfront area is only about 1,500 linear feet long. The Bend will span 3,000 linear feet along the riverfront, further activating the area. While the retail will take care of a lot of that — creating waterfront dining — a boardwalk, expansive park space, and a marina will also satisfy that requirement. The marina will have 100 boat slips in its first phase, and Urban Story hopes to expand it in future phases.
“During our zoning process, we heard from a lot of residents that they wanted the city to be more connected to the river,” says Evans.
Main Street, an existing retail and restaurant area, runs adjacent to The Bend, so the two projects will be cohesive in their efforts to activate the waterfront. Another development project — Cameron Harbor — is adjacent to The Bend. It contains more than 1,000 multifamily units, most of which are already complete.
The Bend’s developers and planners are creating a live-work-play model for the site. Multifamily, retail and office space will be located at the north end of the property, adjacent to the already activated projects along the riverfront, while the south end will have industrial users that can easily access U.S. Highway 27.
“We are revitalizing over 100 acres downtown — making use of an underutilized and inaccessible area to the city in the past,” says Evans. “We are excited about the opportunity to activate the riverfront for our residents and the many tourists that the city has each year.”
This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue of Shopping Center Business magazine.