Chattanooga, Tennessee, has long been seen as a sleepy Southern city. It’s an image as antiquated as the city’s famous train line, one that a new generation of tech companies and entrepreneurs seek to update as the local economy turns toward innovation. Between the Innovation District, a 140-acre hub for new companies in the city’s downtown, lightning-fast 10 gigabit-per-second broadband service, and the Edney Center, a sprawling office building-turned-startup hub, this Tennessee city has made a case as a rising innovation center. And now, it has housing fit for the kind of fast-moving workers it wants to attract and entice to stay.
The just-opened Tomorrow Building, a 35,000-square-foot mixed-used space built from the shell of an 1888 bar and hotel, seeks to provide an new kind of living arrangement for the startup set. Composed of communal spaces and furnished, all-inclusive microunits available for three-month, half-year, and full-year leases, it’s an experiment in coliving offering a chance to “try out” the city and its business environment and experience the new face of downtown Chattanooga.
“A few years ago, design didn’t matter as much to Chattanooga, as a general principle,” says David Hudson, an architect at Artech, who oversaw the renovation. “Now there’s a general attitude around doing projects that improve the city and create something. Design matters.”
Hudson’s firm had taken a crack at redesigning the building roughly a decade ago, but the project, as well as many like it, fell through. Artech was brought back in when developers from Lamp Post Properties, who have been intimately involved with downtown’s makeover, decided to create a space that could showcase the city’s vibrant and growing new business scene while reflecting its heritage.
Hudson and his team aimed to “take what the building had and turn it into an amenity.” The turn-of-the-century structure, aged and rotting with a now-fitting old Yesterdays sign painted on the bricks above the former bar, was refinished, with curved steel balconies that recall the bow trusses of nearby bridges over the Tennessee River. Inside, the space around the light well was transformed into common areas, including a living room and Innovation Room (a former ballroom), with 39 300-to-700-square-feet microunits spread among the upper floors. The layout, like many shared living spaces, is meant to push people together, towards the shared spaces, and help foster community.
According to interior designer Leslie Morales at Smart Furniture, the interior was furnished to provide options and add character to a relatively tight space. The two main shared kitchens showcase classic and modern themes, while the microunits offer space-saving storage and plenty of light to help open up the space.
“We wanted to create a different kind of space for Chattanooga,” she says. “We wanted to have fun with it.”
Located a few blocks from the Innovation District, the Tomorrow Building hopes to provide its new tenants with a flexible lifestyle, a place for work and focus, and a connection to the city’s growing tech community.
“Downtown Chattanooga has momentum behind it now,” says Hudson. “Now there’s critical mass, and the ball is really rolling down the hill.”