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Best Cities, States & Places

Why Chattanooga, Tenn., Is a Great Place to Retire

Tennessee's fourth largest city is in the midst of a massive revival.

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Population:
173,778

Nearby large cities:
Atlanta; Nashville

What $300,000 will buy:
2-bedroom, 2-bath downtown condo with views of the Ten­nessee River

SLIDE SHOW: See Our Picks for 10 Great Places to Retire, 2017

When Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke was a teenager, the city’s downtown was a great place to take a date—if you wanted to be alone. “There was no one around,” says Berke, now 49.

Don’t expect to find solitude there now. Tennessee’s fourth-largest city was once derided as the dirtiest city in the U.S. because of air pollution from manufacturers that made everything from socks to boats. Since the early 1990s, though, the city has tightened environmental regulations and staged a downtown revival that began with the opening of the $45 million Tennessee Aquarium on the banks of the Tennessee River. At the heart of the renaissance is the Tennessee Riverwalk, a 13-mile paved greenway that runs from the Chickamauga Dam to downtown Chattanooga. The trail, which will ultimately extend for 22 miles, is popular with runners, walkers and bicyclists. A $120 million riverfront development completed in 2005 led to the addition of upscale townhomes, condos and apartment buildings. In March, the Songbirds Guitar Museum, the world’s largest collection of privately owned vintage guitars, opened in the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel complex in Chattanooga’s Southside neighborhood.

SEE ALSO: 10 Best States to Protect Your Retirement Nest Egg From Taxes

Berke says the number of people who live downtown has doubled since he took office in 2013. Many of those newcomers include retirees who want to live in a walkable city that also offers lots of outdoor recreation. There are more than 50 trailheads within a half hour of downtown, says Shelda Rees, of the Chat­tanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. “You can be on a hiking trail and in 15 minutes be in a five-star restaurant.”

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Tennessee has no income tax or estate tax and is phasing out its tax on dividends. Be prepared to pay steep sales taxes, though: The combined state and county rate is 9.25%.

The median home price in downtown Chattanooga is about $212,000, according to the Greater Chattanooga Board of Realtors. Close-in neighborhoods that are popular with retirees include the Southside historic district, a haven for artists and trendy restaurants, and the Northshore, home to two large city parks and a wide selection of restored single-family bungalows. Homes in Signal Mountain, a nearby suburban com­munity that overlooks Chattanooga, are available for $300,000 and up. The median property tax in Hamilton County, where Chattanooga is located, is $1,408.

SEE ALSO: The 23 Most-Overlooked Tax Deductions

Health care is available through the Erlanger Health System, which has five hospitals based in Chattanooga. Other local hospitals include CHI Memorial and Parkridge Medical Center, near downtown.

Atlanta is an hour and a half away, so you’re not far from Emory University’s extensive health care system and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. (Chattanooga’s Metropolitan Airport provides nonstop service to Atlanta and eight other cities.) Retirees can also find plenty of specialists at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, which is about two hours away. While you’re there, you can visit the Grand Ole Opry, although you can find plenty of great entertainment—country or otherwise—without leaving home.

See Also: The State-by-State Guide to Taxes on Retirees