UTC expansion plans call for possible demolition of McKenzie Arena

UTC expansion plans call for possible demolition of McKenzie Arena

November 3rd, 2011 by Ellis Smith in News

Benjamin Sporer, of Minneapolis, design firm Perkins and Will discusses the master plan for the UTC campus during a community meeting at the Bessie Smith Hall.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should McKenzie Arena be demolished or renovated?

UTC unveiled three competing plans on Wednesday that could determine the shape of the university's expansion for years to come.

The planned push to 15,000 students from the current 11,450 will require thousands of beds, more parking and additional academic buildings, officials said Wednesday during a presentation of the plans at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

While details differ among drawings, the common thrust includes expanded housing along Vine Street to the northwest, new parking decks lining the perimeter of campus and an athletic district on the east side of Central Avenue.

All three plans call for the demolition or renovation of McKenzie Arena, depending on whether that area takes on a residential or athletic character.

The planned athletic expansion to the east could be a hurdle since it is separated from the main body of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga by several neighborhoods and what promises to be a very busy Central Avenue.

"I'm worried about the traffic, and there's so much traffic already," said student Rob Lamb.

The outside of the McKenzie Arena at UTC.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

KING Two-step

The north side of M.L. King Boulevard, long an underdeveloped part of Chattanooga's downtown core, could see mixed-use student housing under UTC's new master plan, but officials were quick to note that nothing was set in stone.

"We don't want people to worry that we're going to take your land, but we also don't want people to say, 'Yeah, they're going to buy my property,'" said Chuck Cantrell, assistant vice chancellor for university relations.

The M.L. King neighborhood has fallen behind in the developmental boom that began in the rest of the city core, but resident Moses Freeman, former head of the neighborhood association, said his members are open to change.

"If we could have mixed-use student housing, drug stores, dry cleaners, restaurants, that makes it attractive," he said.

Developers in the past have noted that negotiations to purchase property along the street often require buying at above-market values. Residents, in turn, have pushed for the city or a foundation to step in to pay the difference between the asking price and the market price.

But UTC has taken a softer approach with no concrete plans for construction south of the historic street, other than the River City Co.'s plans for area, said Richard Brown, vice chancellor of finance and operations at UTC.

Officials with River City, the downtown development company, have said they want to link the downtown area with the university, a plan that includes as-yet-unrealized ideas for more housing, retail and office space.

"As we move toward MLK, we'll bring housing and mixed-use space," said Brown. "But we don't think it's our role to provide all of the development in that area."

Staff Photo by Tim Barber This is a generic shot of the UTC campus for graphic.

plans aplenty

The University of Chattanooga Foundation now owns several parcels along M.L. King and, in 2009, had plans to purchase the stalled Renaissance Square condo/retail project for an expansion of the university's SimCenter.

But that deal was scuttled when private funds became unavailable to meet the now-defunct developer's asking price, according to a Times Free Press report.

That deal could be back on the table, at least in theory. One UTC master plan shows the area that includes Renaissance Square and the area north to McCallie Avenue as a possible academic research expansion.

"I would cross over MLK if the community wanted us to, but we're being reserved," Brown said.

Getting this far has taken eight months, and the final plan isn't expected to be ready before August 2012, according to Brown's timeline.

"These things work, they really do," he said of the planning process. "It's a high-energy time for a university that's growing, and for a university that listens to its neighbors."

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