Chattanooga's Walnut Street Bridge dubbed 'Great Public Space'

Chattanooga's Walnut Street Bridge dubbed 'Great Public Space'

October 5th, 2013 by Staff Report in Local Regional News

People stroll across the Walnut Street Bridge as the sun begins to go down.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

OTHER 'GREAT' SPACES

The nine other 2013 Great Public Spaces are:

• Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage, AK

• Grand Park, Los Angeles, Calif.

• The Broadwalk in Florida's Hollywood, Hollywood, Fla.

• Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, Boston

• Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.

• Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo.

• Essex County Branch Brook Park, Newark, N.J.

• Grand Central Terminal, New York City

• Esther Short Park, Vancouver, Wash.

Source: American Planning Association

The historic Walnut Street Bridge, whose restoration was hailed as a example of government, civic and private partnership, earned designation as one of 10 Great Public Spaces for 2013 by the American Planning Association, the organization announced Friday.

In singling out the bridge for inclusion in this year's list, the association noted that the "pedestrian jewel" sparked the community's interest in its riverfront.

"The Walnut Street Bridge stands as a symbol of Downtown Chattanooga's rebirth and a visible reminder of how visionary planning can galvanize and revitalize a community," a news release stated.

The once-dilapidated bridge, destined for demolition, now is a focal point for community events and links the North Shore and the Bluff View Arts District, Hunter Museum of American Art, Tennessee Riverwalk and Tennessee Aquarium.

APA singled out the bridge, a unique linear park spanning the Tennessee River, for its history, amenities, connectivity and citizen support.

"The Walnut Street Bridge is not only a symbol of Hamilton County, both past and present, but also a daily reminder of what makes Hamilton County great -- the partnerships between the public and private sectors," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said in the release.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the bridge "strengthens our unique sense of place."

The oldest and largest surviving truss bridge in the South, the Walnut Street Bridge opened to vehicular traffic in 1891. The bridge was closed for safety reasons in 1978. But plans to dismantle the iconic structure galvanized citizens to find a creative way to save the structure and transform it into a pedestrian walkway.

Local attorney Hank Hill was involved in a group that sued to stop the demolition.

"The initial purpose was just to keep from tearing it down," Hill said Friday. "The pedestrian bridge [idea] was a way to compromise and give people a way to support it."

In 1990 the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Residents, civic leaders and historic preservationists banded together, securing the $2.5 million in federal funds originally designated for demolition to transform the 2,376-foot-long bridge into a linear park, the planning association news release stated.

Volunteers sold 1,776 plaques to raise private funds for the two-year restoration, which ultimately cost $4.5 million.