4th Street plan wins Urban Design Challenge contest

4th Street plan wins Urban Design Challenge contest

August 24th, 2012 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

A local design team worked for almost a year to create a new vision for a number of city blocks west of Broad Street on Chattanooga's Southside as part of a the River City Co.'s Urban Design Challenge. This is the people's favorite proposal.

Photo by Contributed Photo

Chattanooga's next big project?

* 4th Street Corridor -- River City Challenge Champion

* Area surrounding Main and Broad streets -- Civic Vision Award

* 700 Block of Market Street

* Civic Forum Block at Market 11th Streets

* Patten Parkway

* Vine Street Corridor

Source: River City Co.

The judges:

* Henry Turley, CEO of the Henry Turley Co.

* Cheryl Morgan, head of the Auburn Design Studio

* Scott Wall, director of the school of architecture at the University of Tennessee

Source: UrbanDesignChallenge.com

If the Oscars gave out awards for urban design, they'd hold the ceremony in Chattanooga.

A rowdy group of more than 400 architects, businessmen and civic leaders packed into Track 29 on Thursday for the finale in a series city meetings to push for growth in six dilapidated districts.

Top honors went to Team Elemi's 4th Street Corridor project, which challenged the Tennessee Department of Transportation's plan to push highway off-ramps into the heart of the city.

"We did a lot of ground research in that district, and we felt like we planned it through the will of the people," said Eric Myers, an architect at Elemi.

The crowd favorite, however, was the plan to move the smelly Pilgrim's Pride slaughterhouse to another, less populated spot -- as well as build mass transit, new housing and an arena on Chattanooga's Southside.

"I think the housing ideas are all implementable and that arena could be a catalyst," said Craig Kronenberg, a partner in Hefferliln + Kronenberg Architects.

Financed by the Lyndhurst, Benwood and Maclellan foundations, the Urban Design Challenge saw its share of controversy after TDOT pulled its plan to improve US-27 in the wake of Elemi's presentation, which slammed the state plan.

But growing crowds warmed to proposals that would bring a Jack's Alley concept to the empty 700 block of Market Street, install a Greenlife Grocery on Patten Parkway or build a soccer field on top of a Vine Street parking garage.

Money men

Though the architects and designers got the rock star treatment on Thursday, the true test of a design is whether it gets built, officials said.

The next step is to determine which parts of which plans can become profitable, said Mitch Patel, Chattanooga-based hotel owner and developer.

"It's not just money. It also takes financially feasible ideas," Patel said.

If a developer can't convince banks and investors to buy in, a great plan could stay on the drawing board forever, cautioned developer Henry Turley, who is CEO of the Henry Turley Co. in Memphis.

"Reality occurs when lenders like the project," Turley said. "Typically we put up between zero and 10 percent to 15 percent of a project, but the rest is dependent on the lenders."

Turley, known for redeveloping downtown Memphis, said the Civic Forum block at 11th and Market streets could be built within a few months with the right funding.

"That's a doable deal," he said.

Lacking lupton

In reality, assembling the vast sums of money necessary for a comprehensive downtown plan will likely require a mix of public and private financing, said Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield.

But the federal earmarks used to revive the Walnut Street Bridge and other projects are no longer available, he said.

"When we did the riverfront years ago, someone said how much is all this gonna cost, and the total at that time was like $750 million," Littlefield said. "People were just aghast, they gagged and said no, no that'll never happen."

In fact, it did.

"You just have to start with the pieces that you can fit into the puzzle today," Littlefield said.

At the time of the Riverfront revitalization, the late Coca-Cola bottling magnate John T. "Jack" Lupton was the catalyst for change.

"Without Mr. Lupton, it becomes a big mountain to climb," said developer Ken DeFoor. "There will be challenges getting this done, with the federal government grants that have dried up, but it could happen with the right players and the right incentives from the city and county. But it would be a gargantuan effort."

Some help could come from the designers at the University of Tennessee, said Scott Wall, director of the UT School of Architecture.

Wall, who studied in Chattanooga in the early 80s, said he hoped the university could again inject itself into Chattanooga's downtown growth, as it did under former Urban Design Studio head Stroud Watson.

"Hopefully, we'll be a part of that," he said.