Impressive Retail Growth Makes Chattanooga More Than Just a Place to Visit


Chattanooga is no longer just a place to stay for a weekend. A growing tech presence, burgeoning soccer scene and resilient retail sector are setting the city up to win.

If you have visited Chattanooga in the past year, it should come as no surprise that you are in fine company. Mayors and Economic Development executives from across the nation have been flocking to the Scenic City. Envious of the Chattanooga success story, they have come to witness firsthand the ongoing transformation that has made Chattanooga one of the most livable, sensational and progressive mid-sized cities in America.

The Chattanooga retail market is strong, chiefly due to the overall health and culture of the entire city.

River City Co., a longtime successful, private nonprofit led by CEO Kim White, touts itself as the economic development engine for downtown. It reports the cost of living in vibrant downtown Chattanooga is 15.9 percent less than the national average. This has drawn everyone from millennials to retirees to the vibrancy and livability of the city.

Jeff Jennings, NAI Charter Real Estate

Tourism in a non-coastal Southern city with fewer than 180,000 residents may seem not even worth pursuing, but Chattanooga hosts more than 3 million annual visitors. Travelers are lured by destinations such as the Tennessee Aquarium, Children’s Discovery Museum and the IMAX. There are also events such as the Ironman; the Head of the Hooch, which is one of the world’s largest rowing regattas; the 3 Sisters Bluegrass Festival, which rivals any similar event in the country; and River Rocks, a 10-day, family-friendly outdoor event featuring rock climbing, hang gliding, hiking and kayaking.

Unlike most cities which feel divided by bodies of water, Chattanooga is a market that is truly connected by its greatest natural resource that one can see curling throughout the city — the Tennessee River. Development continues to flow in all directions from the river.

Soccer has taken ahold of Chattanooga. There are not one but now two professional teams in the city. Chattanooga FC started it all in 2009 after being founded by a local group of Chattanoogans looking to build community. Just prior to offering professional contracts to its players, Chattanooga FC set a modern U.S. amateur record when 18,228 fans recently packed Chattanooga’s Finley stadium to watch the hometown team play for the NPSL championship. That group was led by the most loyal of fans, a rabid group known as the Chattahouligans. Chattanooga FC’s success caught the eye of a Utah business man who recently entered the market with his own team this year: the Chattanooga Red Wolves.

In 2010, Chattanooga became the first American city with a citywide gigabit network but it didn’t stop there. The fast and inexpensive internet allowed the Southern city to become an attractive alternative to Silicon Valley and New York City for talent and tech companies. Venture capitalists have taken note and both investment and entrepreneurs have flooded into America’s first “gig city.” Chattanooga is business-friendly and these would-be Silicon Valley residents and investors are finding it’s better to spend not only their dollars in Chattanooga, but their lives as well.

The city recently doubled down with the public private partnership in creating the Innovation District. It’s a work play environment one might envision in Silicon Valley with bike sharing, open community spaces, co-living space and inexpensive public transit. Its creation has landed tech companies and helped start ups to thrive.

Outside magazine has twice named Chattanooga “Best Town Ever,” National Geographic Adventure followed suit calling the city “one of the best adventure towns in the U.S. to live and play,” CNN Travel called Chattanooga “a regional gem” and The New York Times went a step further naming Chattanooga “One of 45 cities worldwide to visit.”

Local developer Wolford Development has been building in this market since 1998 and has delivered more than 4 million square feet of retail in that time nationwide, all while maintaining a focus on Chattanooga.

“There is a lot of money coming into our market from investors all over the Southeast. It is bringing in new ideas and some classy new developments,” says Clint Wolford of Wolford Development. “The projects we are working on have changed over the last several years. They have become more mixed-use with more service-oriented tenants. The retail climate in Chattanooga is healthy as landlords are doing a good job backfilling with entertainment and other types of tenants that are recreating those developments or complimenting them. We have new retailers coming into the market and that will continue in 2019.”

Chattanooga’s retail market is strong and the reason for that is the health and conscientious growth of one of the best mid-sized city in America. If you haven’t seen Chattanooga in the past year, you should stop by for a visit. It would put you in fine company.

— By Jeff Jennings, CCIM, broker associate, NAI Charter Real Estate. This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Southeast Real Estate Business magazine. 

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