Chattanooga's Southside is the city's new hot spot — like North Chattanooga and the 21st Century Waterfront on the Tennessee River before it.
If you haven't seen Southside recently, you should drive through. The neighborhood's new and renovated homes and condos are top notch. Its Battle Academy elementary school is inviting. The new sidewalk art and quirky businesses on Main Street are energizing.
Now, a plan for the first commercial project in the largest undeveloped tract in Southside should really push the reincarnation of a long neglected section of Chattanooga where Wheland Foundry and U.S. Pipe once operated on a 141-acre parcel fronting South Broad Street near 28th Street.
Soon, an 80-year-old, 40,000 square-foot brick building on 2 acres of the foundry site will be remodeled into new offices, retail developments and possibly a restaurant.
It's a great idea, and there are plenty of examples of similar successful efforts around Chattanooga. In fact, much of downtown Chattanooga is recycled 19th and 20th century buildings: Jack's Alley, the Sports Barn, Big River Grill, Warehouse Row. On the North Shore, there's the Knitting Mill, a very fun antiques store in what once was a textile factory where many a Chattanooga seamstress made pajamas with feet, among other things.
Unfortunately, our city has a cadre of naysayers who would rather gripe than step forward with real effort toward change.
Here's a case in point: One commenter on the newspaper's Times Editorial Page website recently derided this Southside project indirectly while responding to a story and editorial about the high number of crashes on Interstate 24 in and near Chattanooga: "TDOT [the Tennessee Department of Transportation] is spending $40,000,000 on an exit revamp to partly assist the developers of the old Wheland property. That money could be used to fix I-24 in order to keep people alive," the comment read.
That's not a fair -- or even accurate -- statement. The ramp revamp would aid all of Chattanooga as well as drivers.
Have you ever tried to follow the breadcrumbs to get on or off of Interstate 24 on Chattanooga's Southside? Have you said a prayer as you stomped your accelerator and hoped a truck wouldn't send you to meet your maker? Have you ever had to give someone directions for how to get to Rock City after getting off I-24? Your directions would sound something like this; "Well, you turn ... and look for the adult book store ... and turn ..."
Please, please, TDOT! Do help Chattanooga fix this important gateway to our city and its two biggest tourism draws -- Rock City in one direction and the Tennessee Aquarium in the other.
If the fix also happens to help the Wheland and U.S. Pipe property developers, too, that's alright.
In fact, it's better than alright. Perhaps reasonable access will help draw to the city a cool new destination on the old U.S. Pipe plant site -- one that will be worthy of the site's riverfront panorama.
Instead, think of what we -- and our visitors -- see right now. It's a frame that screams dilapidation and "vacancy" -- not exactly a good first, or last. impression.