Chattanoogans seek Brainerd resurrection

Chattanoogans seek Brainerd resurrection

March 1st, 2013 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

A giraffe in front of Sir Goony's Family Fun Center towers over traffic Thursday on Brainerd Road. Merchants hope that revitalization efforts, new businesses and storefront upgrades can help remake the area into Midtown Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

FAST FACT

At Brainerd Village, one of the city's oldest shopping centers, a pair of new businesses have opened in recent weeks -- Ollie's Bargain Outlet and Chick-fil-A.

Chattanoogan Alan Richelson has lived and worked in Brainerd for years, and he'd like to see more entertainment, education and cultural choices help lift the historic area to its former glory.

"There's not any one thing that would make a difference," he said. "I'd like to see a general increase in activity."

Nearly 100 Brainerd area business people and others turned out Thursday to learn more about efforts to breathe new life into the district that's just minutes from Chattanooga's thriving downtown.

"People have forgotten about the Brainerd area," said Chuck Lawson, president of the MidTown Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Plans are to rebrand the Brainerd Road area from the Missionary Ridge tunnel to Chattanooga Airport, make it more pedestrian and shopper friendly and spur added business, officials said. Also, plans to build a new Eastgate branch of the Chattanooga library next to the Brainerd Mission are seen as key.

Ron Harr, who heads the Chamber, told the group meeting at Wilson Air Center at the airport that the city is growing at a pace "where every part of town can advance."

He said businesses need places where they can locate, and recycling buildings in areas such as Brainerd is a way to solve that issue.

Lawson said he wants a renewed focus and energy in Brainerd as they rebrand it as "midtown."

"There's a midtown Atlanta and a midtown Manhattan," he said.

Lawson said plans are to seek grant money to help upgrade store fronts and signage. He said he foresees more pedestrian friendly sidewalks as well as green space, and he'd like to see more done in the redevelopment of Eastgate Town Center.

Eastgate Mall was Chattanooga's first mall when it opened in 1962 off Brainerd Road, and it was one of the city's key retail hubs for decades. But it fell on hard times after the opening of Hamilton Place mall in 1987.

A plan emerged about a decade later to make Eastgate a place where people worked, shopped and were entertained. In 2007, a California ownership group spent an estimated $3 million to $5 million to reconfigure space and revamp the center. Today, it holds a collective of businesses, retailers, education entities, state and city agencies, and a club and is about 75 percent leased up, an official said late last year.

John Naylor, the airport's vice president of planning and development, said work is expected to start soon to tear down former auto dealerships on Brainerd Road and turn that site into a park.

"The airport is a midtown mover," he said.

Library Executive Director Corinne Hill said the proposed new Eastgate branch also will serve as an interpretive center as it sits adjacent to the Brainerd Mission.

"It will have an important role in telling the community's history," she said. "A library is a community anchor -- a true democratic space."

Hill said the branch is in a pre-design phase, but no money has been earmarked yet to build the facility.

City Councilwoman Carol Berz said Brainerd's niche is education, arts and culture.

"It's different from the other parts of town," she said.

Crime, or the perception of it, is something that midtown advocates plan to fight.

"Crime is down in our area," Lawson said. "The perception remains it's crime ridden."

City Councilman Manny Rico said the crime perception is a holdover from prior years.

Dominick DeLorenzo, campus president for Virginia College in Brainerd, said he sees midtown moving in the right direction.

"We believe in what's happening," he said.