published Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Stepping ahead on growth

Audio clip

Kim White

The RiverCity Co.'s chief plans today to lay out a new vision for the nonprofit group that will focus on growing more businesses and jobs downtown and vaulting the central city to "the next level."

"This will be a new push," said CEO Kim White, adding she wants downtown to capitalize off of Volkswagen's $1 billion plant in Chattanooga.

Mrs. White, slated to talk to Chattanooga Rotarians, said the group will bring added energy to the effort of helping businesses seeking to relocate or expand downtown.

While the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce deals with overall economic development, she said RiverCity will take steps to become more a resource in business recruitment downtown.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Midday lunch crowds fill the sidewalks of Broad Street in Chattanooga on Wednesday. The RiverCity Co. is concentrating efforts to increase businesses and jobs in the central city.

For example, Mrs. White said plans are to create a one-stop shop for real estate brokers, businesses, building owners, site selectors and developers. It will help them identify financial resources, retail recruitment incentives and opportunities to work with UTC, she said.

In addition, RiverCity is targeting a re-establishment of a downtown merchants association, and it wants to partner with Realtors and property owners to more broadly market the concept of living in Chattanooga's core.

Mrs. White said RiverCity is aiming to set up a bi-monthly urban design forum to address downtown design challenges. Also, it plans to engage in public/private visioning sessions about downtown's future, and it will take the lead on a three-dimensional mapping system used to market the central city, she said.

PROJECTS ORIENTED

Mrs. White said RiverCity, having started in 1986, has had a project and events-oriented vision that has been a catalyst for many of the downtown's successes, including the Majestic 12 movie theater, new housing, waterfront redevelopment and Nightfall music concerts.

But Mrs. White, who took RiverCity's helm last July, said the economy is in flux and public funding resources are dwindling.

She said that "now is the time to make our downtown even more attractive to private developers, small businesses and residents. By seizing this moment, we will be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities when the economy recovers."

Mrs. White said RiverCity will continue to foster the growth of retail businesses and restaurants in the central city.

Earlier this year, RiverCity Co. dissolved its Chattanooga Downtown Partnership subsidiary, which for years produced Nightfall and other events. Mrs. White said the group wanted to return to its core focus of economic development.

Lori Jenkins, who heads the Downtown Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said the RiverCity strategy makes sense.

RIVERCITY CO. TIMELINE

* 1986 - The RiverCity Co. created to implement the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan, a 20-year, 22-mile blueprint for riverfront and downtown development. Originally capitalized with $12 million from eight local foundations and seven financial institutions.

* 1993 - The RiverCity Co. merges with Partners for Economic Progress to form RiverValley Partners and lead Hamilton County's job-growth efforts. RiverCity chief Bill Sudderth leads combined group.

* 1996 - Pem Guerry chosen RiverValley CEO. Attracts new Chattanooga Lookouts downtown stadium.

* 1998 - Traditional economic development shifts to Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. RiverValley narrows focus to downtown.

* 2000 - Ken Hays becomes chief of the group renamed RiverCity Co. Focus on waterfront redevelopment, downtown schools, central business district.

* 2004 - Paul Brock leads RiverCity Co. New downtown theater started. He oversees downtown housing boom and master planning for U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites.

* 2009 - Kim White heads RiverCity Co. Majestic 12 opens.

"I think they can leverage themselves to recruit new business to downtown...and to support current businesses," she said.

Downtown developer Eugene H. "Buck" Schimpf III, behind the $80 million Cameron Harbor project on the Tennessee River, said he's enthusiastic about RiverCity's new vision.

"Developers want a partner and not a competitor," he said.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chamber's vice president of marketing, said it sees an opportunity to partner and collaborate with RiverCity.

"We're working on some of the same objectives," he said.

RiverCity was started in the mid-1980s at a time when the idea for creating the Riverwalk and Tennessee Aquarium were spawned, drawing the support of former Coca-Cola bottling magnate John T. "Jack" Lupton.

Also, RiverCity oversaw Southside redevelopment, efforts to bolster the Central Business District and the building of the 21st Century Waterfront Project.

However, it has become embroiled in a lawsuit with the city over alleged deficiencies on the waterfront project. Additionally, efforts to redevelop the 700 block of Market Street have failed, leading to another suit involving its proposed developer. Both lawsuits are still pending.

Mrs. White said that when the economy changes, it will have the flexibility to act on future projects.

"We're trying to fill a community need at the moment," she said.

The RiverCity chief said it still plans to seek the redevelopment of the former Bijou Theater at Second and Broad streets.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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