Local business owners said Tuesday they hope the city’s plans to install sidewalks and on-street parking on LaFayette Road will spur more growth in the southside business district.
“We have a lot of tourist traffic passing through here on the way to the (Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Military Park) and we need a way to encourage them to stop off either before or after they visit the park,” said Jeff Epperson. His shop, Classic Blades, opened on LaFayette Road in September. “We need to create a dynamic environment where people want to come to walk and shop like in Gatlinburg.”
The south end of the city’s business district has struggled since the U.S. Highway 27 bypass was built around the west side of Chickamauga Battlefield. After a couple of missteps, city officials have a plan to revamp the area that they hope will bring back customers to the once-busy stretch of highway.
“We are going out for bids soon on the first phase, which is from Harker Road down to Encore Street,” said Ron Goulart, Fort Oglethorpe city manager . “We are going to enhance the intersection (traffic light) at Harker Road and run sidewalks down LaFayette Road. Then we will reduce it to three lanes and stripe it off to make about 20 additional parking slots.”
Mr. Goulart said state grants will pay the estimated $400,000 cost of the first phase.
The plan stalled earlier this year, when officials learned they could not use the funds to narrow the road.
“We’re just going to (paint it). That way, if it does create a problem, all we are out is removing the striping,” he said.
Judy O’Neal, owner of North Georgia cable TV station UCTV-3, moved her consignment and resale store about two months ago to the site of a former gymnasium for the Army’s Sixth Cavalry post on Barnhardt Circle.
The move improved business, she said. And she hopes more retailers will invest in the area and bring more shoppers back.
The area could become a gateway to Chickamauga Park, much as Gatlinburg is the entrance into the Smoky Mountains, Fort Oglethorpe Councilman Steve Brandon said.
“Most of us still look at that area as the downtown for Fort Oglethorpe; it was forever until Battlefield Parkway boomed,” Mr. Brandon said.
“We’d like to see these empty buildings filled again. People will leave this area and go to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and shop. Why can’t we have some of those stores?”
Mr. Brandon envisions a store with artists creating original wax works for Civil War buffs, while Ms. O’Neal sees the need for an outdoor cafe. Mr. Epperson wants a fudge shop where his four sons can work, making candy.
“We need to tie this all together,” Mr. Epperson said. “We need the stores and the people and this can become an area where people feel comfortable walking around, buying souvenirs and visiting the park.”