published Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Downtown Chattanooga could get eight new retailers by August

Tiffanie Robinson, left, and Blair Waddell talk Monday about a project to bring retailers into a row of stores on Chestnut Street just off M.L. King Boulevard.
Tiffanie Robinson, left, and Blair Waddell talk Monday about a project to bring retailers into a row of stores on Chestnut Street just off M.L. King Boulevard.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
HOW TO APPLY

River City Company's Project PopUp will award as many as eight retail startups six months of free rent on the ground floor of City Park at 800 Chestnut St. and help build out the space. To request an application, email projectpopup@rivercitycompany.com.

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Downtown Chattanooga could get as many as eight new retailers by August.

River City Co., will start accepting applications today for Project PopUp, a retail incubator with about 17,000 square feet of space in the City Park building on the corner of East M.L. King Boulevard and Chestnut Street. Selected businesses will receive six months free rent from the building owner and help with facade and interior expenses from River City.

Any retail concept new to the area can apply, be it a yoga studio, restaurant, jewelry store or any other ideas entrepreneurs who want to test out downtown.

"We're excited about putting out the applications because we know people have a million different, better ideas than we have," said Tiffanie Robinson, River City Co.'s program manager. "Really, the sky's the limit."

The space has been largely empty since the start of the recession. But property owner Steve Hunt hopes this project will give retailers the push they need to fill the space.

"We've got 50,000 people working downtown, and that City Park space is sort of on the 50-yard line," Hunt said. "It is a great corridor. It just needs some life pumped back into it."

The Chestnut Street building sits just off U.S. Highway 27 under a large parking deck. Hunt imagines a variety of retail concepts -- florists, salons, gift shops, eateries -- could find success at the site.

After the six months of free rent are up, Hunt plans to work out leases with businesses that decide to stay. As retailers commit to the site, he plans to beautify the space with planters, signs and other landscaping improvements.

River City is constantly trying to lure new retailers downtown, but retailer recruiter Blair Waddell found many saying their business couldn't work in that area. She said River City is looking at this project as a way to prove the viability of the area.

"There's been such a resurgence on the Southside, and the riverfront is always booming with activity," she said. "We're trying to weave those two together."

Downtown Chattanooga has about 700,000 square feet of vacant retail and office space, Waddell said.

River City plans to invest about $25,000 in the project. The development agency plans to announce project participants by mid May and open all the stores on the same day in mid July.

"It helps with accessibility," Robinson said. "It creates this totally new perception."

Contact Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil

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