This photo shows the view east along Manufacturers Road near the intersection with U.S. Highway 27. The state Department of Transportation is working with Chattanooga to beautify the wider U.S. 27 off ramps that will be built as part of widening the major transportation artery.Photo by John Rawlston.
Renaissance Park, the downtown waterfront, Coolidge Park and Manufacturers Road: One of these things is not like the other.
The first three boast expansive greenspaces, meandering walking paths and a plethora of vegetation, representing the pride and joy of Chattanooga's downtown. But 0.2 miles west of North Shore's $1 million condos, Manufacturers Road is a treeless jungle of chemical storage tanks, cracked asphalt and seemingly perpetual construction.
Pretty or not, the industries along the city's northern waterfront keep people employed, generate revenue and they aren't likely going anywhere soon -- nor should they, according to Karen Hundt, director of the community design group with the Regional Planning Agency. But she said three projects in the mix may be strong first steps toward upgrading the largely industrial area to be more like the rest of 21st century Chattanooga.
The next planned extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk, a forthcoming Manufacturers Park and improving the roads connecting the waterfront to the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District may all work together to transform the westward stretch of Manufacturers and Hamm roads -- if they get funded.
The largest of the three projects has already seen success in other parts of Chattanooga, Hundt said.
Six segments of the Riverwalk have already been completed near the C.B. Robinson Bridge, the Chickamauga Dam, Ross's Landing and other areas. A seventh that will connect downtown to St. Elmo is in the works. Funding comes from local, state, federal and private sources.
The eighth installment is slated to start at Manufacturers Road and run west toward the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District. Preliminary designs show 11 new overlooks, a rejuvenated riverbank, restored wetland woods and a reclaimed creek leading into the Tennessee River -- and, of course, miles of walking path along the river.
It's unclear exactly where that path will run, but Hundt said it will follow the waterfront, except in cases where businesses regularly use the river.
"We know that we'll probably have to pull away from the river, probably around Olgiati Bridge, but the rest of it, we are going try to keep it as close to the riverbank as possible," she said.
Shelley Andrews, executive director of Friends of Moccasin Bend, said the Riverwalk will be a great help to the newly designated national park. She also said Manufacturers Road can become a destination unto itself.
"Those barges are not going to go away, but why not celebrate them?" Andrews said.
Andrews envisions creating overlook areas with information posted about what the various businesses do, how they operate and what they mean to Chattanooga.
"To be able to walk there and look at it, my kids would love it. I would love it. Even though things like those barges are not going to go away, we are going to make the best of it and talk about those barges."
The new section is in the funding stages, but Hundt said the Riverwalk has been hailed as a success by most Chattanoogans and money hasn't been hard to find in the past.
That's good news, because there are lots of funding stages ahead, she said.
"Once you fund the design, you have to fund the construction. All of those things are pretty fluid. If you look at the sections of the Riverwalk that have already been build, it's usually a mix of public and private funding," Hundt said. "We've continually been able to get federal transportation funding, and we are hoping that will continue."
Anyone who drives on Manufacturers Road -- or U.S. Highway 27 -- regularly is familiar with the color of concrete. But once construction is over and the blaze-orange cones are removed, passers-by may see a lot more green at the Manufacturers Road exit. By 2015, the giant, curving ramps connecting the two roadways may be a greenspace to rival nearby Renaissance Park.
Andrews said the idea for the park came from the gateway planning process, and included the surrounding manufacturers.
"We've always included the manufacturers association in all of our plans," Andrews said.
The park, which will highlight Chattanooga's manufacturing history, is expected to feature environmentally friendly stormwater filtration, sculptures and interpretive exhibits and will work as a hub for other planned walking paths.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has cooperated with the plans, Hundt said.
"When we proposed this, we immediately went to TDOT because it's their property, it's their right of way, and they agreed to do it," Hundt said.
Once U.S. 27 work is finished -- plans now call for the enormous widening and rebuilding project to be complete in February 2015 -- the state will finish grading the land for the park and install drainage systems.
After that, the hope is that the city will be willing to finish the park.
Lacie Stone, spokeswoman for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said Tuesday it's too early to tell what money will be available for Manufacturers Park, but the city was aware TDOT was prepping the site.
Perhaps the most obvious improvement to Manufacturers Road is remaking the road itself, adding some trees, better sidewalks, improved drainage and a bike lane.
And the city of Chattanooga is working toward that right now.
Blythe Bailey, head of the city's transportation department, asked the City Council last week to OK a federal grant application to improve the streetscape of Manufacturers and Hamm roads. He estimates it will take $1.5 million. If officials approve and the grant comes through, the city will have to match 20 percent of the funding, or roughly $300,000.
All of the plans are in their infancy, and Hundt said all are critical to improving the west side of the city's North Shore.
"It's leading into a new unit of our country's national park system; it should be a beautiful corridor, we believe," Hundt said.
Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon @timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.
Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...