Chamber, entrepreneurs; Krystal departure 'no big economic loss' - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Chamber, entrepreneurs; Krystal departure 'no big economic loss'

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- What does it say that the new owners of a restaurant chain born in Chattanooga, would choose to celebrate its 80th anniversary by moving its corporate headquarters to Atlanta?

"We're disappointed, but not surprised," says J.Ed Marston, Marketing Director for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. "The owners are Atlanta-based, and there's no way that Metro Airport could duplicate what Hartsfield(-Jackson) has in terms of service."

Krystal Chief Executive Officer Doug Pendergast cited "greater air travel options" as a primary reason when he formally announced the move Wednesday.

And he has made clear, albeit indirectly, that Chattanooga neither had, nor was given, a fighting chance to sway the decision. "We did not engage in discussions with the (Metro) airport or the city," Pendergast says. "We made the decision based on the data we've gathered ourselves."

Sixty employees now must decide whether to leave Chattanooga with Krystal, take a severance package, or accept Krystal's help in job placement elsewhere.

Beginning in February, Krystal will vacate the top two floors and the basement test kitchen of the Market Street mid rise that bears its name.

"I heard about it when the media heard about it," landlord Henry Luken says. "They were renovating as recently as last week. And their lease runs for another year."

Pendergast expects the move to be completed in August.

River City Company's Kim White spins the challenge as an opportunity.

"Even last night I was sending out emails about some options I think could be great for our downtown to fill that space," she says. "We haven't had that kind of iconic space come available often. Some new tenant could make an incredible statement."

"In the great scheme of things, I don't think it means much for the local economy," Marston says. "We're talking 60 jobs. Certainly it's symbolically important."

But, he maintains, economic developers have been serving up a number of other meal tickets. "Our future's gonna be related to entrepreneurial activities," he says. "And applications of technology that we don't even know what the type is yet."

Some of the 'maybe's' are cooking at the Lamppost Group incubator, housed in what once was Loveman's department store.

"About 11 companies have come through this space in one capacity or another," Lamppost mentor-investor Jack Studor says. "We typically try to bring people in, so that if one idea doesn't take off, the person stays and maybe gets absorbed in a group that has a better idea."

Studor and White believe it would be simplistic to characterize Krystal as 'Old School', and such 'green manufacturers' Volkswagen and Alstom as the New Chattanooga.

But both say the arrivals and departures reflect the necessary. And the inevitable. "The city is changing," White says.  "And we go through these type evolutions."

"For any city to remain vibrant, you constantly have to be reinventing yourself and moving forward," Studor says.  "Always going for the next big thing."

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