The team members of Idea Channel, a group of Urban Design Challenge participants tasked with presenting an idea to revamp the Vine Street corridor, say they are acutely aware of a challenge many Chattanoogans may not even realize exists.
"We want to rethink the area between downtown and UTC and establish a connection that has for a long time been disappointing," said team member Matt Greenwell.
This same missing connectivity was recently given an entire semester's attention by UTC graduate and undergraduate business students. Idea Channel is seeking to solve this problem through strategic, large-scale and multifaceted design.
The group's plan focuses on improving Fountain Square, revitalizing Vine Street as a neighborhood, erecting a 900-car parking garage that includes retail space and a 4,000-seat stadium or recreational field on top of the structure, and changing the way Vine Street operates.
Those who missed their presentation last week at Central Church of Christ on Vine Street can see and hear about the plan for themselves at a follow-up forum June 7 at 5:30 p.m. at greenspaces.
One of the main components of the team's plan is expanding the triangular Fountain Square located in front of the courthouse on Georgia Avenue and making it a small park that will attract the community.
"We found that Georgia Avenue is designed in the year 2012 solely for the purpose of moving cars downtown during limited hours of rush hour traffic," said team member Blythe Bailey. "We think the space can be more than a throughway for cars during the morning and evening rush. For about 90 percent of the rest of the time, Georgia Avenue and Fountain Square are severely underutilized and vacant."
The expanded square would provide a safer throughway for pedestrians from Vine Street to downtown and give Chattanooga's historic monument that commemorates the lives lost in the Great Fire of 1887 the attention it deserves, according to the team.
Vine Street Neighborhood
A second component of the team's plan includes revitalizing the Vine Street neighborhood between UTC's campus and Georgia Avenue. Historic photos show that the space now occupied mostly by parking lots used to be the site of many Victorian homes and a neighborhood which closely resembled Fort Wood.
"In the historic blink of an eye what were front porches and balconies became parking lots, and the homes that remained became offices," said Bailey. "A mix of houses and businesses gave people a practical reason to travel on foot."
Reinstating the neighborhood feel with housing appropriate for older students, young professionals or empty nesters and supplementing the housing with small local business would encourage pedestrian traffic on Vine Street, according to the group.
In order to accommodate parking losses created by building on Vine Street, the group proposes building a large-scale structure that includes retail space on the first floor, a 900-car parking deck and a 4,000-seat stadium or recreational field on top.
"A playing field on top of 900 parking places creates a destination rather than a space between places," said presenter Thomas Palmer. "It could be an iconic building of the future and the stadium could be used for the Chattanooga Football Club or UTC women's soccer."
The group also listed the field as a potential practice space for other UTC sports or a possible activity venue.
In order to get the desired pedestrian, automobile and bike blend on Vine Street, the group introduced a new type of street used particularly in European countries. Called "woonerf," the new-to-Chattanooga style of street uses trees as barriers between lanes instead of painted lines and different paving materials to indicate pedestrian, bicycle or automobile use.
"We've got concrete plants here," said Blythe. "Why not just use something practical and local that comes from our earth?"
The group wouldn't comment on the overall cost of their recommendations. Instead, they pointed to the fact that a 1981 study by Chattanooga's Urban Design Studio identified key areas that would define Chattanooga's character and culture. Those projects included Miller Plaza, the Tennessee Aquarium, the Riverfront and Vine Street, all of which have been revitalized except Vine Street.
"The worth of this project should be measured against return of investment on the aquarium, Miller Plaza or the Riverfront," said Greenwell. "It's important not to lose sight of the bigger picture."
Blythe agreed and said that doing the project doesn't have to be all or nothing. A small start could be as simple as adding on-street parking on Georgia Avenue, she said.
For more information visit www.urbandesignchallenge.com.