The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s 1941 big band swing classic “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was America’s first gold record, signifying one million copies sold.
A New Tune for the Choo Choo
Today, Monica Kinsey serves as general manager of Track 29 and the Revelry Room, as well as the Operations Manager for Songbirds Guitar Museum. Adam, son of former Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey, was named president of the Choo Choo in 2015.
Now the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, the city’s iconic tourist destination, is taking the city’s entertainment scene to the next level. On the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel already receives 700,000 visitors annually and generates millions of dollars in tax revenue. But with the Choo Choo’s 2015 renovation, Adam Kinsey expects engagement to exceed one million visitors per year.
A $20 million renovation gave the south section of the 105-year-old building a major facelift. The space now houses new restaurants like STIR, known for its oysters and artisanal cocktails, and Nashville-transplant Frothy Monkey, which opened in March and is their most successful location to-date.
In late 2015, the 30-year-old Comedy Catch relocated to the Choo Choo. Following a $4 million build out, the Songbirds Guitar Museum opened in March 2016. The 7,500 square foot museum houses more than 550 vintage and rare guitars, with one-third of the collection currently on display and rotating exhibits planned for the future.
The Kinseys even opened a new, more intimate venue just down the street from Track 29 – the Revelry Room. This 500-person venue was established to further build the market for music and musicians in Chattanooga.
“Not long after opening Track 29, we realized that it was difficult to service the local and regional market,” says Monica Kinsey. Track 29 is too large a venue for up-and-coming musicians. “If you have 300 people show up in an 1,800-cap venue, then it still feels empty. That, in turn, feeds the artists’ energy, the crowd’s energy, and their perceptions,” Kinsey explains.
Adam Kinsey estimates that the venues (including Track 29, the Revelry Room, The Comedy Catch, and Songbirds) at the renovated train station will see 400,000 guests annually, in addition to their regular 700,000 visitors.
One of the biggest components of the Choo Choo’s renovation? Revamping 14th street – rebranded as Station Street upon completion – as a more pedestrian-friendly alleyway for patrons of the Choo Choo’s attractions. Many businesses on the Choo Choo campus now open out onto Station Street, creating a more inviting atmosphere, and more are expected in the future. After celebrating the successful revamp at Station Street Fest in March, Adam Kinsey proudly describes the Choo Choo as “coming alive again.”
Doak calls the renovations a vote of confidence for the city’s future. He says of investors, “I can’t think of a better compliment, because they certainly believe in the future of Chattanooga. These are very brilliant people spending tens of millions of dollars, knowing that they will get a return on their investment. They believe in this city.”