Group plans Southside arena, light rail system

Group plans Southside arena, light rail system

July 25th, 2012 Rachel Sauls in Local Regional News

Public art, locally owned restaurants and unique retailers currently characterize Chattanooga's Southside near Main Street, but heading west past the Broad Street intersection or south onto Broad Street, the trend doesn't continue.

A large and often smelly chicken plant, parking lots and empty space dominates the corridor that one local group has created plans to change as part of River City Company's Urban Design Challenge.

"Anyone who knows anything about the Southside will tell you that west of Broad Street is the next frontier," said Merrill Eckstein, who collaborated with the Broad Jump Team and assisted in its presentation. "This group's mission was to develop a master plan for that area in the Southside. It will undoubtedly be the biggest dream you will see out of these, because they have really put together a big package. Rather than the two blocks assigned to them, they chose more than 20 blocks to develop."

Made up of representatives from Hefferlin and Kronenberg Architects, Artech and Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon Inc. architecture firms, the team's plan calls for relocating the Pilgrim's Pride processing plant out of downtown. The current site and surrounding areas would then be replaced with an urban plaza, light rail system and large-scale arena that would share common facilities and a management team with Finley Stadium.

"That plant has been there providing jobs since before 1943 and today it provides over 1,000 jobs," said team member David Hudson of Pilgrim's Pride. "It has been a major part of the Southside neighborhood for that long, but as the Southside has changed, it has become less and less important and more and more inappropriate."

According to Hudson, executives at Pilgrim's Pride embraced the idea of relocating the plant but are currently in need of an economically viable way to consolidate their operations or move to another location within the city. He said "they would jump" on an opportunity if it were made available to them.

With Pilgrim's Pride out of the way, the group's plan details a four-quadrant plaza that would replace the plant and occupy space adjacent to a proposed 15,000-seat arena to be located at the corner of Chestnut and West Main streets.

"During our involvement with the [University of Tennessee Chattanooga] master plan we saw needs for larger sports and entertainment events that Chattanooga can't currently provide," said team member Craig Kronenberg. "Chattanooga is losing opportunities to host larger events because we lack the facilities. A 15,000-seat arena is the right size to attract basketball tournaments, concerts, motocross and ice events."

The Southside is the perfect place for this arena, according to Kronenberg, because of its proximity to hotels, the convention center and a variety of restaurants.

In addition to the arena, the Broad Jump Team is also looking to implement a light rail system that would connect to UTC and a greenway that could potentially connect to the Riverwalk's extension and to St. Elmo and Lookout Mountain.

"We hope to make connections by open space, transit opportunities and greenway systems," said team member Paul Barr. "The light rail transit stop will cater to UTC and service areas north of our site and back to the Southside. We think it will provide more transportation options for people and will cater to game-day events and other events in the Southside. It will also hopefully create further connection south toward the mountain."

Team members described the light rail system as similar to a trolley and "very European." They said it is something that has the potential to expand throughout the city as a new means of transportation.

As a complement to the other large-scale projects encompassed in the plan and as a means of activating the streets, Broad Jump also proposed a gateway concept for the intersection of Main and Broad streets.

The new intersection would feature two- to four-story buildings on each side with cutout corners, creating space for public art. Ground level restaurants and retail with affordable apartment options above would meet the Southside's current needs for more housing and an active streetscape.

"We really want to create a memorable place," team member Heidi Hefferlin said. "We really want to jump Broad [Street], incorporate public art, include public open space, make the street a fun place to be and create connections to the urban fabric of the rest of the city."