The executive director who has led the 28th Legislative District Community Development Corp. since its inception plans to retire this month.
Forestine Watson Haynes' legacy includes transforming a vacant state penitentiary into the 28th CDC office and building or renovating 70 houses, most of which are in the East Chattanooga/Bushtown areas.
"We were the catalyst as far as housing and revitalization in Bushtown," Haynes said. "We began the housing program, and we changed the look of Bushtown."
Improving the quality of housing helped alleviate crime, said Peggy Kilpatrick, president of the Bushtown Neighborhood Association.
"They have made a difference," she said.
Haynes plans to retire Sept. 30. Joelander Wheeler, the CDC's finance administrator, will be the interim executive director until a new one is chosen.
In her retirement letter to fellow CDC associates, Haynes said she will be "headed off to what I anticipate will be a very enjoyable (spelled s-t-r-e-s-s-f-r-e-e) new life."
She has been working with the 28th CDC for 15 years, nearly five years before the organization moved to its 815 N. Hickory St. office in August 1999.
During her tenure, the CDC purchased 70 duplexes, boarded houses and vacant lots and replaced them with single-family housing. The organization's developments include six new houses on Carson Street, nine on Newell Street and five on North Highland Park Avenue. It also put houses on Citico Avenue, North Holly Street and Dodson Avenue.
Following CDC's efforts, the Community Impact Fund, another development group, has purchased and demolished several crime-infested duplexes to improve Bushtown, Kilpatrick said.
"By replacing those duplexes with single-family homes, we feel we are able to sustain the changes that have been made," she said.
Hamilton County school board member George Ricks moved his family from East Brainerd to the community about six years ago. He said he grew up in Bushtown and that his parents still live there.
"There's been a whole lot of improvement," Ricks said. "We had duplexes. We had some problems. It made people feel uncomfortable."
But many of the duplexes have been replaced with new single-family homes, he said.
"The 28th CDC and other organizations have made a big difference," he said. "I enjoy sitting on my front porch."
Nevertheless, Haynes' 15-year tenure doesn't end without challenges. Among the most visible is the $2.7 million Renaissance Square, a two-story, 21,000-square-foot building in the 300 block of M.L. King Boulevard. It took the nonprofit 10 years to gather the money to build it, but it has been mostly empty since its grand opening in 2007.
Regions Bank provided $1.2 million to the CDC for the development. Dewey Roberson, senior vice president at the bank, declined to comment about the CDC's plans to pay off the debt.
When asked about Renaissance Square, Haynes responded, "Fifteen years of success, two years of a bad economy, and the focus is on Renaissance Square.
"We're still working on Renaissance Square. That was a great, great project for a nonprofit CDC to undertake," she said. "But we're no different than anybody else in the development business. The economy is slowing down, and we got hit by the slowdown."
She said the organization's mission is still to build affordable housing for homebuyers or renters.
"We're still standing," she said. "And the vision for the 28th CDC will not change when I leave."