The Bend in Chattanooga makes a major move with Novonix plant

·4 min read

Jul. 10—When battery materials maker Novonix was looking for a new factory site in the Southeast, access to lots of power was one box that was checked by a former Alstom plant in Chattanooga.

"[Alstom] was making nuclear turbines," said Jimmy White, an owner of the Riverfront Parkway tract where the building sits. He added that the 400,000-square-foot structure also has large interior cranes and is on the Tennessee River, two other factors liked by Novonix officials.

Novonix, which plans to invest about $160 million and employ 300 workers, is the latest addition to the 121-acre former Alstom property renamed The Bend after White and Chattanooga hotel developer Hiran Desai bought the parcel from GE Power for $30 million in 2018.

White said that every remaining building at the former Alstom site either has been sold or is leased. The 800 people working on the tract is more than three times the number GE Power employed when it announced the facility's closing in 2015.

The redeveloper of the property said more jobs are on the way. Medical office buildings are currently under construction at the 1201 Riverfront Parkway location by developers John Foy and Todd Phillips. That facility is expected to add about 70 more jobs, officials have said.

Micronics Engineered Filtration Group moved its headquarters to The Bend and is employing about 140, while other companies have moved to various locations on the sprawling riverfront campus.

White said that The Bend recently added to its footprint with the purchase of about nine acres from food processor ADM on the river. Plans are to turn much of that parcel into a marina, he said.

The landowner said there are still conversations with the city about extending Main Street into The Bend and to the river, much as M.L. King Boulevard received with its extension at Cameron Harbor.

"We're bringing the city to the river and the river to the city," he said.

A new 20-story office building is envisioned to hold a major user, White said.

"We're going for the opportunity to attract a Facebook or Google. We've got the world's fastest internet," he said, citing EPB's fiber network.

Also, White foresees the reuse of a former Alstom building serving as a potential 5,000-seat music venue and recording studio near the waterfront.

"It's built like a giant cathedral," he said of the old industrial structure.

Work is underway laying out a new street grid on the property as preparation is made for more mixed-use with residences and retail to join the commercial businesses, White said.

In 2019, after a lengthy planning effort, the company revealed possibilities for the tract including housing, hotels, offices, a canal, a food hall, the music venue, child care center and more.

"We're creating a beautiful campus to live, work and play," White said.

Housing is slated to go up on the Cameron Harbor end of the site, he said.

"It's workforce housing," White said. "This is for the entire community. This needs to mirror downtown."

He said there are "multiple developers" who want to build at the site. White added that the retail pieces will come in the so-called "canal district," which eventually calls for construction of such a waterway into the property.

Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president for economic development, said Nova Scotia, Canada-based Novonix is "an awesome addition to the Alstom facility."

"This is manufacturing in a sector that has a long growth curve out ahead of it," he said.

Daniel Deas, chief operating officer of Novonix subsidiary PUREgraphite, said plans are to produce up to 10,000 tons per year of synthetic graphite. The product is used in making ultra-long-life, high-performance anode material for lithium-ion batteries, specifically for electric vehicles and similar storage applications.

Deas said the company, which last week received tax breaks from the city and Hamilton County, is to be on the new plant site this year. He said work will pick up in mid-2022 and up to capacity by mid-2023.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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