Thursday’s announcement that the former Bijou Theater is being rebranded as The Block—which will house Rock/Creek and High Point, a climbing facility—has larger implications for the city’s constantly evolving downtown, leaders said.
“This is so much bigger than just a climbing gym,” Dave Santucci, vice president of marketing at the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.
The project’s architect, Craig Peavy with River Street Architecture, echoed that statement, and both leaders discussed the far-reaching implications of the new retail development on Broad Street.
From national rock-climbing competitions that will impact tourism and provide boosts to local businesses to the potential for a 60-foot billboard that could be used for paid and/or public service advertising—the development has the potential to change the landscape and vibe of Broad Street and produce revenue.
“There’s a huge signage component at Second and Broad that starts on the second floor and goes above the top of the building,” Peavy said. “It’s something that will be bid out for the ability to make revenue on signage.”
The details of how the billboard will be implemented are likely to evolve and change, Peavy said, but there is huge potential.
Leaders painted a picture of the development as a downtown anchor. Tourists and residents can eat outside at Big River and watch climbing competitions.
Officials could close down roads for a couple of hours—as they do for events such as Nightfall—as pedestrians move between restaurants and retail stores or in and out of the Tennessee Aquarium, or as they sit to watch climbers scale the outside of The Block, perhaps while stopping for a snack at a local food truck.
“It’s a huge income generator for the entire district,” Peavy said.
The project is unlike anything Peavy has ever taken on, he said.
There will be four retail spaces.
Rock/Creek and High Point have already secured two spaces, and there are others interested in the remaining two, although the deals aren’t done, so Peavy couldn’t say who may be joining The Block.
The architects have plans to open up all the areas that had been movie theaters, and there will be a significant amount of storefront that faces the streets, he said.
River City leaders are exploring social and other green options and have pursued grants to help achieve those goals, he also said.
Because some of the climbing area will be outdoors, designers researched which materials to use that will not be worn down over time by the weather.
Santucci said the potential for rock-climbing events during off-peak tourism times will be great for the city and tourism.
“It will continue animate the downtown,” he said. “Over time, [The Block] will become something that is iconic for our city.”