10 to watch in 2014; new year brings changes for Chattanooga area (with slideshow)

10 to watch in 2014; new year brings changes for Chattanooga area (with slideshow)

January 1st, 2014 by Staff Report in Local Regional News

Ten to watch in 2014, from left, UT football coach Butch Jones, The Block, GPS chief Autumn Graves, Ironman, Chattnooga Mayor Andy Berke, election year issues, Volkswagen and UAW, pro golfer Harris English, a new Chattanooga police chief and Dalton Mayor David Pennington.

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Now that "Auld Lang Syne" has stopped and the champagne bottles are trashed, the book on 2013 is closed.

And this year change is a comin'.

One of the biggest changes will come from City Hall. Mayor Andy Berke will have to tap a new police chief and launch the city's most ambitious law enforcement transformation in decades. The initiative, an idea adopted from a New York criminologist, has impressed some and incited others. A fight that began brewing over the city-dubbed "violence reduction initiative" in December will spill into the new year.

The tourist front will also see an overhaul. The beloved and historic Delta Queen, a draw for years, may flee -- or get booted -- to sunnier shores, while a new $6.5 million retail complex and outdoor rock climbing wall on Broad Street will draw even more sightseers downtown. Some of the world's toughest competitors will flock to the Scenic City in September for the Ironman triathlon.

Two of the area's biggest hospitals are poised for big changes. Fort Ogelthorpe's Hutcheson Medical Center will try to fight its way out of a financial nightmare as Erlanger hospital considers a wholesale governance restructure.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen -- the city's marquee industrial recruit -- will remain in the midst of an international unionization battle as the German company considers a multimillion-dollar expansion.

Dalton, Ga.'s Mayor "King David" Pennington will throw his hat into a contentious race for Georgia governor, fighting so far the incumbent, Nathan Deal, and John Barge, the Peach State's school superintendent in the Republican primary. The winner will face the winner of the Democratic primary, so far the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter and the daughter of former U.S. Sam Nunn.

In 2014, fans of Tennessee football hope they may finally see a bowl run. After a disappointing 5-7 finish in 2013, hopes are high for new coach Butch Jones and his impressive fleet of recruits.

From new downtown attractions to shifting leadership to state and local political showdowns, there will be many story lines to follow over the next 364 days. Here's a rundown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press' 10 people and things to watch in 2014:

VW expansion

Hundreds of new jobs and millions of dollars in investment depend on whether the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant gets a green light to produce a sport utility vehicle. Also, the factory could become the first assembly plant in the South belonging to a foreign automaker to unionize if the United Auto Workers succeeds in its organizing efforts.

Autumn Graves

For the first time in nearly 50 years, a woman will lead Girls Preparatory School as nationally recognized educator Autumn Graves succeeds 26-year Head of School Randy Tucker in July. Oprah Winfrey's magazine named Graves a "Women to Watch for the Decade" in 2010 following her leadership in Philadelphia's education reform. The elite prep school GPS was founded by three local women more than a century ago to prepare girls for the academic rigors of college.

David Pennington

David Pennington, the mayor of Dalton, Ga., will challenge incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal in the Republican primary in 2014. Pundits say Pennington will have an uphill battle because a sitting Georgia governor has never lost to a challenger from his own party. But Pennington, whose platform includes eliminating Georgia's income tax, is counting on support from the party's conservatives.

The Block

This $6.5 million retail and rock climbing attraction on Broad Street opened in December and features the largest downtown outdoor climbing wall in the United States. The Block's tenants hope the site will become a major downtown anchor -- the climbing gym already averages 150 visitors a day and there are still 3,000 square feet of leasable retail space available for future tenants.

Butch Jones

After a 5-7 debut season filled with high-profile recruiting victories and several catchy slogans, Butch Jones enters his second season in Knoxville in 2014. Year 2 of the "Brick-by-Brick" rebuilding project Jones has started with the University of Tennessee football program will be telling on several fronts. Goal No. 1 is getting back to the postseason for everyone in the Big Orange, especially Jones.

Harris English

Former Baylor School golfer Harris English is a rising star on the PGA Tour who proved last year that he is among the top golfers in the world. English, who played at the University of Georgia, won two PGA Tour events in 2013 and finished the year No. 53 in the official world golf rankings. With his victories, English earned full status on tour for the next five years and an invitation to the 2014 Masters Tournament. If he remains ranked in the top 60 in the world at the end of May, English also will earn an exemption into the U.S. Open.

Election year issues

This election year will heat up quickly with county primaries in May and the county general and state primaries in August. Dozens of elected offices are up for grabs, but voters also will decide on key ballot issues, including an expansion of health benefits to domestic partners of Chattanooga employees, a state constitutional amendment allowing state lawmakers the authority to enact new abortion restrictions, and a constitutional amendment prohibiting any tax on personal income by the state (except for the Hall income tax now in effect).

Mayor Andy Berke

In his second year as Chattanooga mayor, Andy Berke will be tested on follow-through with his campaign pledges and initiatives. He promised a new approach to how government operates, symbolized by a nearly complete turnover of City Hall administrators and the introduction of budgeting for outcomes to boost government accountability. He began to tackle reforms to the Police and Fire Pension Fund, invested in early childhood education to prepare children better for school and vowed to reduce violent crime.

Ironman Triathlon

In September, as many as 2,500 people will converge on Chattanooga and step to the starting line of what has been called the world's toughest one-day endurance event. The Scenic City's choice as the home of a full Ironman distance triathlon -- 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run -- adds to Chattanooga's reputation as a mecca for outdoor and endurance sports. The race is also expected to inject millions of dollars into the local economy.

New police chief

This year, one of Berke's most important decisions will be whom he hires to lead the police department. His choice will be crucial to carrying out his Violence Reduction Initiative, which focuses on ridding the streets of violent drug offenders. Bobby Dodd, who served as police chief for three years, retired Tuesday. Berke has formed a committee to help with the search for a new police chief and plans to hire a consultant for assistance, as well.