Rock City is renovating several sites at its gardens and is adding terraced seating near the edge of its famously advertised view, Lover’s Leap.
The project started last week and is slated to end by March 1, kicking off the park’s often-busy spring season.
“Now you walk out there and it’s a place you can look through binoculars, you can look through telescopes. But it’s a place you hike to, look, then hike back,” said Jeff Raabe, Rock City’s director of operations. “The difference will be you’ll hike out there and have a place you can go and lounge.”
Lover’s Leap’s 60 to 75 seat terraces will regularly host live musicians and serve food and drinks.
Last year, about 375,000 people visited the gardens. Over the next year, Andrew Kean, president of See Rock City Inc., plans to expand the food options, polishing off what he hopes will be a space that will bring repeat visits to the tourist attraction.
“There was a perception of wanting more opportunities to enjoy our premiere view,” he said. “I hope people will say, ‘Man, we want to come back. This was a great experience.’”
The construction will create a gathering place, Kean said, allowing visitors to have a more interactive experience both with the live musicians and one another.
That interaction has been increasingly important to the tourism business.
“People don’t want passive experiences where they stand there and look. They want hands-on experiences where they do,” said Dave Santucci, vice president of marketing for the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Attractions have to remain dynamic and changing. Rock City’s been around for 80 years, but they’ve always added music and festivals and dining, something to keep people coming back.”
Several Chattanooga-area attractions regularly update their exhibits, Santucci said. This year, the Tennessee Aquarium will open a River Giants exhibit, the Chattanooga Zoo will open a Deserts and Forests of the World section and the Creative Discovery Museum will feature Tinker Toys in its summer exhibit.
In addition to the Lover’s Leap update, the building through which visitors enter and exit Rock City will be signficantly updated. This renovation project will in many ways bring the building back to basics, exposing the original stone walls and a stone fireplace.
The building will also get new floors and energy-efficient lighting by March.