The troubled 700 block of Market Street currently features a gaping hole in the ground as its centerpiece, the result of a failed development that has been tied up in years of litigation.
"As you're going down Market, you have all the beautiful buildings, then there's nothing," said Craig Peavy, architect for River Street Architecture.
But if a $19 million plan unveiled Thursday sees the light of day, the site could soon feature a new grocery store, a rooftop restaurant and apartments.
The plan, offered as part of River City Co.'s Urban Design Challenge, vaguely resembles Jack's Alley "by creating a large amount of surface area," said planner Christian Rushing, who advised the designers.
New site maps use the block's existing alleys to create a cross-shaped pedestrian junction in the middle of the block, lined by a multi-layered stack of apartments, stores and restaurants.
By removing a former Cooper Office Supply building on the north end of the block, the proposal creates uninterrupted pedestrian access for several more blocks, north and south.
"We want to re-energize the conversation about what's possible with planning and design," said Kim White, head of River City Co.
The contest paired developers such as Mitch Patel with architects such as Peavy and David Barlew to allow for creativity, while keeping contestants grounded in financial reality.
Patel, who owns and operates a number of upscale hotels in the area, predicted that the project could actually bring in several hundred thousand dollars in profit in the first year.
In addition to a grocery store and a "mid-block arcade," the budget also allows for what designers are calling "green screens," or towering columns filled with climbing vines fed by storm water, as well as a terraced garden.
"The leaves keep the UV rays from heating up the building," Barlew said, and also provide a screen between residents and shoppers.
In what could be a controversial choice, the plan adds no parking, though site designers defended the decision.
A number of nearby lots and a municipal garage with two floors that are "95 percent empty" would provide the majority of residents and visitors' parking needs, Peavy said.
"This is no different than any other urban center in our country," he added.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who applauded the design, said that for the project to succeed it must return to "friendly hands" from Trey Stanley, who has been unable to develop the site over the six years in which he has owned the property. River City Co. has sued Stanley to reclaim the property and a trial on the land dispute is set for Hamilton County Chancery Court in January.
"The city, River City and others struggled to assemble that land, and of course the developer has it now was not able to go forward with his development," Littlefield said. "Once it's back in friendly hands, it'll be easier to work with it."