Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo with a new owner?
Maybe not for Track 29, but a Chicago firm has bought the former railroad passenger station on Chattanooga’s downtown Southside.
Northpond Partners, an investment firm that specializes in commercial real estate projects in historic and redeveloping parts of U.S. cities, has purchased the Terminal Station that was built by the Southern Railway in 1909 and served as an entryway to Chattanooga for rail passengers for nearly a century. Today, the 45,000- square-foot historic structure is home to such restaurants and bars as The Stir, Nic & Norman’s and the Frothy Monkey along with entertainment venues like the Comedy Catch and the Songbird Museum.
Former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey, who led an investment group that bought the then bankrupt Choo Choo hotel complex in 1989, is keeping the hotel, rail cars, gardens and apartments that occupy most of the 26-acre Choo Choo site. But after converting the former hotel into one of the city’s premier entertainment areas, Kinsey said he decided to sell the terminal building to Northpond to continue to build on the redeveloped facility.
“We decided last year that the time was right to transfer ownership of the iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Station to a top notch institutional real estate company to ensure the building would remain in good hands for the long term,” said Kinsey, who hired CBRE to help market the building to find the best buyer. “It was apparent to me that Northpond Partners was the right organization to assume responsibility for one of the most iconic structures in the region.”
The sale comes three and a half years after the owners of the Chattanooga Choo Choo donated the historic dome in the entrance to Cornerstones Inc., a local preservation group which has worked to help maintain and restore one of the largest freestanding domes of its type in the world. The Terminal Station was listed on the National Register in 1973.
“To own an iconic property like the terminal building at the Choo Choo is an opportunity we are really excited about and we hope to build on what Jon and Adam Kinsey have built to add even more excitement and development in that area,” said Sam Ankin, managing principal of Northpond Partners. “The whole Southside area in Chattanooga continues to grow and we look forward to being part of that growth.”
The terminal will remain as an entrance for the hotel and Ankin said he hopes to fill a couple of the vacancies in the terminal and keep the existing tenants at the Choo Choo as the facility is upgraded. The changes come as Kinsey prepares to also upgrade the adjacent hotel facilities at the Choo Choo.
Northpond previously purchased landmark or historic buildings in redeveloping commercial districts in Chicago and such Southeast markets as Raleigh, Durham and Asheville, North Carolina.
The terminal of the Choo Choo, which was popularized in the first Gold record ever recorded in 1941 by Glenn Miller, served as the front door to thousands of persons coming to Chattanooga in the 20th century via the railroad, including Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt.
The Beaux-Arts-style station designed by Donn Barber was completed in 1909. The center arch section, the Dome, was the largest self-supporting brick arch in the world when it was erected and won international awards for its design.
During its height of operations in the early 20th century, the 14 tracks at the Choo Choo moved thousands of people and tons of goods across the country, making Chattanooga the primary travel route from North to South.
But with the end of passenger rail service to Chattanooga in 1970, Terminal Station was scheduled to be demolished before B. Allen Casey led an investment group that bought the abandoned rail station, put more than $4 million into the Terminal Station renovation and turned the facility into a Hilton hotel and convention facility with rail cars, stores, a skating rink and more than 500 hotel rooms.
Kinsey’s group acquired the hotel complex in 1989 after the Choo Choo filed for bankruptcy. Jon and his son Adam have led an effort to revamp much of the former Choo Choo hotel and conference center into an entertainment complex of restaurants, music venues and bars. Terms of the building sale were not disclosed.