Chattanoogans pondered everything from a Venice-like extension of the Tennessee River through downtown to a network of rooftop gardens connected by high-flying pathways at a public brainstorming session hosted by River City Co. on Monday night aimed at mapping out a plan for downtown's future.
About 200 people attended the session Monday, which was held at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. The group dreamed up both practical and not-so-practical ideas for Chattanooga's "city center" -- the area between Fourth and 12th streets, from U.S. Highway 27 to Georgia Avenue.
Some of the most popular ideas were to increase downtown parking and housing, reduce traffic flow, increase pedestrian corridors, connect UTC to downtown and add greenspaces throughout the district.
"Parking is our biggest concern," said downtown resident Christina Bello. "And greenspaces. We need places for people who live downtown to walk their dogs and get outside."
After Monday's session, a group of experts will spend today and Wednesday hashing out the ideas and figuring out what is and isn't do-able. Then the initial plan for the district will be revealed in a second public session at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"The plan will be a starting point," said Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co. "We really want plans that are actionable. Most good plans you try to think far into the future. But some things will happen quickly."
She pointed to the now-empty lot on the 700 block of Market Street as a site that could quickly evolve, as well as the city's vacant office space. Many of the ideas from Monday's session revolved around Broad Street -- some advocated closing lanes on the street to vehicles and creating a pedestrian-only zone.
Others proposed adding cobblestone alleys and artwork to encourage pedestrians to wander and explore.
Spencer McCallie, who lives in a downtown townhome and serves as chairman of the Chattanooga Symphony board, said he'd like to see the Tivoli Theatre on Broad Street brightened up. He pointed out that the city-owned theater has 127 events booked this year.
"I'm concerned that the darkest place in town is outside the Tivoli," he said. "It's dark and dingy at night. We had 1,500 people at our last symphony. The city is not losing money on the Tivoli."
Bello said she thinks the downtown district can be improved, but that it will take a citywide effort to recreate the district.
"It can be implemented," she said. "But it's going to take continued support from everyone, both businesses and downtown residents."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org