That’s not because there are several popular attractions and restaurants within walking distance of downtown Chattanooga, though that’s true. And it’s not because there’s a free electric shuttle that runs every five minutes, though that, too, is one of the Scenic City’s perks. Rather, no city has the history Chattanooga does when it comes to disabled vehicles.
It is, for better or worse, where towing is said to have been invented. The International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum on Broad Street—Chattanooga’s main drag—celebrates that fact.
The Tennessee Tow Show, hosted by Tennessee Tow Truck Association and Tow Times Magazine, is a regular on the Chattanooga Convention Center schedule. Naturally, the museum also plays a key role in the ceremonies.
By now, the event is almost a bit of a reunion, which suits the Chattanooga CVB just fine. Brian Murphy, the CVB’s vice president of sales, and Chris Petro, director of national accounts, argue what makes Chattanooga a great place to visit also makes it an ideal destination for groups. Whether it’s for retreats, reunions or large gatherings, the city checks off the boxes at affordable prices.
“Compared to Goliath convention cities, we’re a perfect value,” says Murphy. “There’s so much for families to do,” adds Petro. “A lot of people will come for a reunion but then return to experience [the city] for themselves.”
Most of the attractions Chattanooga is known for—and some of the more obscure, like the towing museum—make for memorable locations for off-site events and receptions.
New and Next
The Westin Chattanooga added extra luxury last year. The new 10-story hotel is part of an $88 million project that will feature the high-end restaurant Shula’s Steakbar, cobblestone streets for pedestrians, and festival and event space. The Edwin Hotel is an upscale five-story boutique property at the south end of Walnut Street Bridge. Opening this summer, it includes 1,650 square feet of event space. The Read House Historic Inn & Suites has hosted the likes of Winston Churchill, Gary Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and Al Capone. The property, on the National Register of Historic Places, could lure luminaries in the future after a $25 million restoration is complete. Guest rooms and all public areas will be upgraded. The first phase of work is slated for completion this summer.
Located right on the riverfront, Tennessee Aquarium is arguably Chattanooga’s most known attraction downtown. With two large buildings, one centered on rivers and the other on ocean life, it can be a daylong destination for leisure travelers. Groups can get a taste of the experience, utilizing the recently expanded meeting space. Renovations were completed in 2018, allowing attendees to eat with the fishes (windows in the meeting space lead to the exhibits). It is capable of hosting receptions for 20 to 2,000 people. An IMAX theater, part of the aquarium complex, also hosts receptions and functions in its Great Hall. Plus, your group can watch a movie there too.
Chattanooga Choo Choo
You may not want to sleep with the fishes, but how about aboard a vintage train car? That’s one of the options at the iconic Chattanooga Choo Choo. The old rail station immortalized in a song is now a genuine entertainment district following a $21 million project. Petro admits the area felt a bit restricted before the work, but not anymore. “[There weren’t] many reasons to stay around there before, but now there are so many things.” Songbirds Guitar Museum is the latest addition. It includes a collection of more than 1,700 vintage instruments displayed on a rotating basis. Directly below the museum lies a live music venue formerly known as Revelry Room but now called Songbirds. The 600-seat concert hall is 14,000 square feet and available for private events, as is the museum itself. Two hotels are on-site, as are dining and retail options. The Choo Choo Gardens include an ice-skating rink in winter. That’s where 24 old rail cars have been converted into guest sleeping rooms and pop-up shops.
While Chattanooga draws primarily regional SMERF events, Murphy says the word is out. He points to an uptick in groups from Texas, where Murphy was based in Corpus Christi previously. “News out of Chattanooga is spreading,” he says. Of course it helps when international triathlon organization IRONMAN hosts multiple competitions, including its 2017 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga. Diana Bertsch, IRONMAN’s world championship race director, says the city’s welcoming spirit won her and her team over. “It was so evident the community wanted to welcome us,” she says.