$30 million housing project targets UTC students

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Hoping to capture students from both the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Chattanooga State Community College, a Virginia-based developer plans to build a 600-bed apartment complex on vacant property at 1428 Riverside Drive, near the future extension of Central Avenue.

The site is immediately across from the Riverside Business Center, where CSL Plasma is located.

Wes Bradley, president of University Housing Group, said the company has eyed Chattanooga for some time and at one point even explored rehabilitating the old Chattanooga Bank building downtown for student housing.

The money didn’t work out in that case, he said, but Tennessee has “good economics” and kept the company’s attention. Bradley said he simply reached out to someone about purchasing the 13.5-acre lot off Riverside, and was able to strike a deal.

Other private developers are also moving on the Chattanooga market recently, with Riverside Development building a 275,000-square-foot, 690-bed student housing complex — dubbed Douglas Heights — off M.L. King Boulevard downtown.

South Carolina-based Walk to Campus is also in the process of rehabbing downtown structures near UTC for affordable student housing.

The rise of private student housing comes as UTC has experienced overall enrollment growth over the last decade, even with numbers slacking off slightly since the recession began. UTC’s current enrollment is around 11,670, which is up 3,000 since 2005. UTC does not have enough on-campus housing to support its enrollment, causing the need for overflow housing at the Read House and Choo Choo in recent years.

“The enrollment numbers at UTC are very encouraging,” said Bradley.

University Housing’s complex, though, is a little farther from UTC than others in development. But it is closer to another up-and-coming customer clientele, as Tennessee starts offering two years of free community college to high schoolers graduating this spring.

Chattanooga State is just over four miles from University Housing’s proposed apartments and currently has 10,500 students enrolled. Bradley said University Housing has traditionally targeted four-year schools because community colleges were “a lot more of a commuter market.”

“But that’s changing these days,” he said. “We do hope to capture some of those students.”

Eva Lewis, vice president of institutional effectiveness, research and marketing at Chatt State, said this week that school officials are uneasy making hard predictions about Tennessee Promise’s impact at this point, but that having a nearby student housing facility could be beneficial for Chatt State students who travel longer distances.

And Chatt State has “seen an increase in applications from high schoolers around the state,” said Lewis. “We think we’ll have an increase in enrollment, but how much, I don’t know.”

University Housing’s complex will cost about $30 million to develop.

According to planning documents, the complex will include 174 units, four four-story buildings, one three-story building and 619 surface parking spaces.

Bradley said the complex will offer two-, three- and four-bedroom units, with leases ranging from $500 to $700 per bed, based on room size, with larger rooms being the cheapest. Furnishings, Internet and utilities are included in rent.

The Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency staff wrote in their recommendation that while no multi-family housing exists in the area now, the project is not incompatible to the surrounding area.

University Housing is seeking to have its Riverside Drive property rezoned from light-industrial to central-business to accommodate the proposed project. The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission will consider the zoning request at 1 p.m. Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse.

If all goes well, Bradley said University Housing hopes to start construction this summer and complete the project by summer 2016.