Chattanooga: "Best Town Ever" and a bittersweet summer

Chattanooga: "Best Town Ever" and a bittersweet summer

June 2nd, 2016 by Mark Kennedy in FYI - 2015

A single jet pulls away to make a missing man formation during a Blue Angels flyby of the Chattanooga Unite Tribute Concert at Ross's Landing on Sept. 16 to honor to men killed in the July 16 shootings.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

 

Outside Magazine's 2015 "Best Towns Ever"

 

1. Chattanooga, Tenn.: "(It's) like the love child of Nashville and Silicon Valley."

2. Port Angeles, Wash.: "Port Angeles is a gateway to Olympic National Park."

3. Iowa City, Iowa: "Unlike Boulder (Colo.), it's affordable."

4. Eau Claire, Wis.: "What sets Eau Claire apart is its music scene."

5. Glenwood Springs, Colo.: "A laid-back outpost of 10,000 some 160 miles west of Denver."

6. Athens, Ga.: "A robust party scene, and cycling on endless farm roads."

7. Flagstaff, Ariz.: "The high desert is prized by athletes."

8. Beaufort, S.C.: "Think of coastal 'Gone With the Wind.'"

9. Pagosa Springs, Colo.: "A microcosm of authentic Colorado."

10. Boone, N.C.: " Dominated by students and other people making the most of the lifestyle."

Source: Outside Magazine, Aug. 2015

For Chattanoogans, 2015 will be remembered as the best of times and the worst of times.

Just weeks after finishing in first place in Outside Magazine's "2015 Best Town Ever" contest in early June, Chattanooga was in the national spotlight again, this time for a deadly July 16 shooting spree by a gunman that resulted in the deaths of five servicemen. The shooter was killed by police.

Although polar opposites in both tone and news value, the two stories will forever be embedded in the city's collective memory as contrasting historical artifacts from the summer of 2015.

Things came full circle in late July when representatives of Port Angeles, Wash. — second-place finishers in the Best Town Ever contest — traveled to Chattanooga to deliver 20 banners signed its residents expressing sorrow about the July shootings.

Leslie Robertson, who lives in the Washington town 2,600 miles from the Scenic City, said Port Angeles residents immediately wanted to reach out to Chattanooga after the killings, and settled on the signed banners as a way to express condolences.

"We really wanted to think of something personal," Robertson said at the time. "(The banners) are like one giant sympathy card."

Although the Best Town balloting was a mere frivolity compared to the military shootings at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway that left four Marines and a Navy specialist dead, interest had been intense in the Best Town contest, which seemed to devolve into which city could marshal civic resources to get out the vote online.

Chattanooga would become the first city to win the contest twice (the first time was in 2011), and local leaders saw the contest as a way to get tons of free advertising for a city marketing itself as an outdoors tourism mecca.

More than 100,000 votes were cast nationally in the contest finals, which pitted Chattanooga and Port Angeles, a city known as the gateway to Olympic National Park about a tenth the size of Chattanooga. The final vote was 67,432 votes for Chattanooga and 62,130 votes for Port Angeles.

Civic boosters said Chattanooga's victory in the contest helped the city's efforts to market itself.

"Superlatives don't just increase tourism, they attract businesses, and people wanting to relocate to the area," Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau, has said.