A new survey on downtown Chattanooga shows that most people think the central city is clean and safe, but panhandling and parking remain public concerns.
The survey of 1,100 people by the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co. also indicated that the top stores they'd like to see in the central city are specialty grocer Trader Joe's and clothing retailer Urban Outfitters.
Kim White, who heads the group, said the survey shows that people think downtown is "great but we still have work to do."
"Downtown is still a work in progress," she told the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Council.
Amy Donahue, River City's director of marketing and communication, said a lack of downtown parking or the perception of it was an issue cited by survey respondents as was panhandling.
Donahue said that 84 percent of those who answered the survey indicated they'd been approached by panhandlers, though most didn't describe it as aggressive.
She noted one respondent mentioned that panhandlers came into a business and asked for money.
Donahue said the area in and around Miller Park, Miller Plaza, Patten Towers and the EPB building was cited as frequented by panhandlers as was well as the area around the aquarium and The Block.
White said the panhandling issue is one that potentially the Chattanooga police can address by providing more visibility.
Gangs downtown were mentioned by some as a safety concern, but White said she believed that's a perception driven by frequent news reports on gang incidents.
She said the parking piece will be looked at in a detailed study that's now underway with results coming this summer.
In terms of retail, White said the survey reinforces what River City is working on in regards to wooing more stores downtown.
She said the new housing that's going up or planned for downtown helps when the central city is pitched to retailers. Over the next couple of years, the number of people living downtown is projected to double with the addition of 2,599 apartment units, 268 condos and townhomes and 1,461 beds for college students.
"We're close to some of that," White said about wooing new retailers.
Donahue said the survey showed that most people shop for clothing downtown, followed by food and gifts. She said 18 percent of respondents indicated they come downtown to exercise.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.
Updated April 6 at 11:25 p.m. with more information.