The state will dole out $2.3 million to help pay for an extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk from Ross's Landing to St. Elmo and the foot of Lookout Mountain, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday.
The money will be well spent on the Riverwalk, Haslam said, calling the walkway a jewel of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Extending the Riverwalk from the Chickamauga Dam to Lookout Mountain will reinforce the attraction as the prime greenway in Tennessee.
"That's a long stretch of greenway, unparalleled," said Haslam during a news conference on a pier at the 21st Century Waterfront.
The $2.3 million, which comes through federal enhancement funds that the state administers, adds to almost $10 million already collected for the extension.
There are two extensions in the works. One would stretch from Renaissance Park on the north side of the Tennessee River and end at Moccasin Bend National Park, while the St. Elmo/Lookout Mountain project is the second.
City officials said the ultimate goal is for the Riverwalk to run from the Chickamauga Dam to the Chickamauga National Battlefield at Fort Oglethorpe.
Haslam said the project was helped by lobbying from the Hamilton County state legislative delegation and former County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who is now Haslam's deputy governor.
John Brown, project manager for architectural company Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon Inc., said the hope is for construction on the expansion to begin by the end of the year and be done within a year and a half.
"That's the idea," he said.
But Larry Zehnder, the city's parks and recreation director, noted that there is only a little over $12 million for a project whose total cost is estimated at about $15 million.
"We'll go as far as the money will take us," he said.
The Trust for Public Land still is working with the owners of five parcels of land, convincing them to grant easements across the properties for the Riverwalk, said Rick Wood, executive director for the Chattanooga branch of the Trust, but he doesn't foresee any problems getting those easements.
"They are all friendly landowners," he said.
County Mayor Jim Coppinger said there is no doubt the extension would help economic development in the future, much as the Riverwalk has helped with projects such as Volkswagen coming to Chattanooga and Alstom Power agreeing to expand only if the Riverwalk came across its property.
"We've seen in the past companies have been attracted to what they call the intangibles," he said.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said the announcement just expands on a promise made to citizens in the 1980s.
"I never expected to live to see how far the trail has been built," he said.