More and more government offices and services are moving into the old Farmers' Market and the area around it, and city officials say a plan for one-stop shopping for the homeless is still on track.
"This is a very rapidly changing area," Mayor Ron Littlefield said. "By this time next year, it will be very different."
The former Farmers' Market presently houses the Interfaith Homeless Network, a furniture bank, a police lot and the Southeast Tennessee Human Resources Agency's transportation center.
City officials broke ground Friday on a city health and wellness center on the old Chattanooga Gas Co. site next door, and plans call for a police station, a county health care center and a city impound lot.
Of eight current or proposed facilities in the area, only two are social service agencies, records show.
Charlie Hughes, executive director for the Chattanooga Community Kitchen across the street, said that's because city officials realize the kitchen already is a "one-stop shop" for the homeless.
"We began to realize most of those needs were fulfilled here at the Community Kitchen," he said.
As for governments taking over the property, he said, "If it's there, you might as well use it."
Littlefield first proposed the Farmers Market as a homeless campus in 2006 after the city bought the property for $775,000.
During a meeting in April 2006, Littlefield told a group of architects he envisioned a "happy, colorful place" and wanted them to let their "imagination to run free."
He said he imagined a day center, thrift stores and open market, greenspace and a park. Proposals also envisioned social service agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission.
But the Union Gospel Mission couldn't raise enough money to build on the site, and the Salvation Army has refused to relocate from McCallie Avenue.
Nearly six years later, dilapidated buildings and the remains of a warehouse that burned a few months ago remain on the property.
The Interfaith Homeless Network and the SETHRA transportation center are toward the middle and rear of the site.
Littlefield said the only property not being used is a warehouse slated for demolition. But gray, cracked asphalt covers most of the area. There is no greenspace, no park. The only market is P&P Produce, which has been there for years.
WHAT IS THERE
Wayne Owens, manager of the SETHRA transportation center, said the market site is perfect for his operation.
"It fits like a glove," he said.
Even though SETHRA is a quasi-governmental agency, it still acts much like a nonprofit by contracting out rides for patients using medical and mental health services. The center also contracts with the Interfaith Homeless Network.
Littlefield said once the county health care center opens next year, it will cater to some of the homeless population as well.
The Interfaith Homeless Network offers families a day center at the Farmers' Market site and temporary housing at area churches. The furniture bank helps individuals and families once they find a place to call home.
Littlefield said by the time he leaves office in April 2013 the homeless campus and the one-stop shopping concept will be realized.
"We'll have that," he said.