Interest in one of the key gateways to downtown Chattanooga — which includes the site of the former Wheland Foundry and U.S. Pipe & Foundry — is about to heat up.
Planners, landowners, residents and others will take part in a pair of meetings this month on a 10-square-block area around South Broad Street. Results could direct its future for the next decade and a half.
"It will guide development moving forward," said Eric Myers, executive director of the Chattanooga Design Studio, which is overseeing the planning effort.
The area is roughly bounded by the 141-acre foundry property, Interstate-24, The Howard School and Chattanooga Creek — a tract that Myers said has been isolated from downtown.
"How do you link with the energy from the rest of downtown?" he asked.
Chattanooga attorney Mike Mallen, a partner in the group that owns the foundry parcel and the South Broad area's biggest stakeholder, said the property is still viewed as holding mixed-use development.
"It would be heavy on housing and public space and entertainment and retail and restaurants to support that," he said.
Mallen said the group is interested in talk about the property also holding a potential new Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball stadium, an idea that has been floated in the past.
"That topic will be heavily discussed in the planning sessions," he said, adding the group believes a stadium would be "a fantastic addition" to South Broad.
Mallen said he can foresee the stadium serving as "an iconic gateway feature" as people enter Chattanooga from Nashville on I-24.
The Chattanooga Design Studio is sponsoring a pair of visioning workshops for the South Broad District at Calvary Chapel, 3415 Broad St.
› Thursday, Aug. 17 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
› Saturday, Aug. 19 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co. that owns the property on which the existing Lookouts stadium sits, said it has been a catalyst for the riverfront.
"No doubt that's one of the most prime pieces of property in all our city," she said, adding that the Lookouts owners are committed to Chattanooga. "Cities do evolve and change."
But Mark Cunningham of the Nashville-based Beacon Center of Tennessee said that group is opposed to any potential taxpayer funding of a new minor league stadium.
While nothing has been officially announced, he said that "using taxpayer money is fund a privately owned sports team is both morally wrong and poor investment for taxpayers."
Myers said the Aug. 17 and 19 "visioning workshops" at Calvary Chapel will involve a much larger area than just the foundry property, including the Southside Gardens neighborhood and the South Market Street district around Howard.
"There are significant changes afoot for each portion of the district," he said.
At the meetings, planners will work with small groups of people to discuss their ideas. Consultants will then create a framework plan for the community for another meeting on Sept. 11, Myers said. It will be presented to the city and other stakeholders who'll be expected to work on the considerations needed to put the plan into place, he said.
In the Southside Gardens neighborhood in the center of the district, a local real estate group last year bought up more than seven acres of property with plans to put up an estimated $30 million in new residential and retail development in the first of three stages.
An array of new apartments, townhouses and single-family homes were envisioned on parts of a three-square-block tract between South Broad and Long streets and West 26th and 27th streets. Also, about 12,200-square-feet of retail and commercial space was planned for South Broad and West 26th streets.
In the South Market Street district, Myers said that one question is how to "integrate the high school into the community physically." For the city and Hamilton County, that could involve the best use of the property surrounding Howard, he said.
For the foundry property, Mallen said the Perimeter Partners ownership group has been patient in its development since it started purchasing the site in the early part of the century.
Since then, he said, the group has donated the land through the site for the extension of the Riverwalk, and the state Department of Transportation has on its work schedule the redoing of the nearby I-24 interchanges at Broad and Market streets.
TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said the interchange modifications, estimated at costing about $37 million, are to begin in fiscal year 2019.
Mallen said that it's "starting to feel more like it's time for the next step to happen" on the foundry property.
Mallen's group bought Wheland Foundry after the business shut down in 2003 following 136 years of operation. Three years later, the adjacent U.S. Pipe business closed after more than 100 years. Perimeter also purchased that property and since has been looking at redevelopment options for both parcels.
The Great Recession that began in 2008 slowed the effort, but the group has held conversations about future development since then, though there's no overall master plan and no definitive agreements, Mallen said.
"I don't think we'll take the next step until the planning process is over and we've adequately heard from the public and elected officials," he said. "We're not going to get ahead of the process."
White said the foundry property owners "want a legacy for the city."
"I can't give them enough credit for waiting," she said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.