Despite boarded-up windows lining both sides of M.L. King Boulevard and years of projects that never quite got off the ground, there are people who still envision a street bursting with businesses.
And they want to share that vision with others.
"We hope to inspire people who might drive by looking for a place to have a business," local attorney Steve Barham said Friday. "Instead of seeing a building with plywood boarded up, people will see a storefront that looks like a great place for a business."
Mr. Barham is one of eight participants who worked on a project to inspire business owners and entrepreneurs to locate along M.L. King. The project, part of the 2010 class for the development program Leadership Chattanooga, was unveiled Friday during a news conference at Champy's Famous Fried Chicken on M.L. King Boulevard.
Class members called on art students from the Center for Creative Arts and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to design and decorate potential businesses for M.L. King Boulevard.
Creative Arts students replaced a boarded-up brick storefront on the Patton building at the corner of M.L. King and Douglas Street with an art gallery. A vacant building a few doors away was replaced by UTC students with three different storefronts.
1981 - The Chattanooga City Commission changes the name of East Ninth Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
1995 - Anita and George Conley start the M.L. King Neighborhood Association.
2003 - M.L. King Boulevard becomes a two-way street.
2003 - The Lyndhurst Foundation and Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise form M.L. King Tomorrow, encouraging about $20 million in residential development in the neighborhood.
2003 - Moses Freeman and James Pratt of the Chattanooga Urban Development Corp. sell six houses ranging from $150,000 to $250,000 in the M.L. King neighborhood. In the 1980s and mid-'90s, single-family homes there sold for less than $75,000.
2004 - UTC Place, a $78 million private student housing project, opens. The back of the complex sits off M.L. King Boulevard.
2007 - Renaissance Square, a $2.7 million condo/retail development is built, but remains mostly empty to this day. Lawsuits now swirl around the development.
2010 - 2010 Leadership Chattanooga participates in a project to inspire business owners to locate on M.L. King Boulevard.
One of the storefronts is a tutorial center for 826 National, a national nonprofit tutoring, writing and publishing organization, something UTC art professor Matt Greenwell really wants to locate on the street.
The project enabled UTC art students to move from drawing designs in a classroom to actually having a building on which to make their art, Mr. Greenwell said.
He said art teachers and students stayed on M.L. King as late as 10:30 p.m. Thursday to put the finishing touches on the storefronts for the presentation Friday.
City Councilman Andraé McGary, who was at the unveiling Friday, said he has no doubt that revitalization to the street is coming.
"We're sending a message this morning, and the message is very simple," Mr. McGary said to the crowd gathered at Champy's. "Piece by piece, brick by brick, redevelopment is coming to M.L. King."
George Conley, who worked with his wife Anita Polk-Conley to start the M.L. King Neighborhood Association nearly 15 years ago, said he's glad to see students focused on revitalizing the neighborhood.
Initially, M.L. King Boulevard had to overcome its reputation for being a place of illegitimate night clubs and crime, but it has done that, he said. People see the high traffic on the street and homes in the neighborhood so businesses eventually will follow, he said.
"As Chattanooga prospers, M.L. King has to benefit from it," Mr. Conley said.
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