Teens get hearing on downtown Chattanooga programs

Teens get hearing on downtown Chattanooga programs

October 10th, 2012 by Rachel Bunn in News

Kim White, top, president and CEO of River City Co., gets feedback Tuesday from area youths about what their vision of a future should look like in downtown Chattanooga. The students enjoyed pizza and soft drinks during the meeting at River City's Market Street headquarters.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

There's nothing for teenagers to do downtown.

For Kim White, president of River City Co., and Gang Task Force Coordinator Boyd Patterson, it's the same thing they've been hearing for weeks. And it's something that they are trying to change.

After hearing from teenagers that programs and activities are not available to them, Patterson went to River City to find out how some of the revitalization efforts implemented downtown could be used to target teens and various neighborhoods.

"River City, they're the pros -- they're the ones that take the ideas and turn them into brick and mortar," he said.

Nine teenagers sat around a table at River City's office on Market Street on Tuesday coming up with ideas for the city -- the first of several focus groups Patterson hopes to facilitate with teenagers over the next few months.

"We could make a waterpark -- after all, we are on the river," said Demitric Otis, 17, who lives in Brainerd.

"We need a Dave and Busters," someone called out.

Another person mentioned a go-cart track. Someone else mentioned a sports complex.

White wrote the ideas on a board in front of the table.

"Do you all come downtown?" White asked. "What do you do?"

Most people said they went downtown every weekend. Some talk about walking around Coolidge Park. But many talk about going to places outside of Chattanooga in order to have fun.

"There just ain't nothing to do downtown," said Demarcus Otis, 17, Demitric's twin brother.

Many times, people do not know what is already available in the community, White said. When someone in the focus group mentioned building an arcade, White pointed out there was already one, called Iron Labs, downtown.

But other things are preventing teens from seeing downtown as a place that is welcoming to them.

"I think one of the biggest issues is a lot of businesses, they're afraid of teens coming to these places," said Marcus Thomas, prevention and youth development at the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department. "Some of these places, because they are fun, they will attract some of the bad."

Thomas said that things like bag checks or metal detectors could lessen the problems, because people who would bring things like guns into the activities will not bother coming.

Demitric Otis suggested that spreading activities across the city may also prevent the violence and crime that scares businesses.

"Problems start to disperse out," he said. "If everything is dispersed out evenly, you've got less of an issue."

The business community wants to be involved, White said, but doesn't know what is needed. White sees the role of River City to connect different agencies with what kids are saying is needed.

"There are some things that we can do quickly," White said. "I know we can do more with the library, and the aquarium, making them more accessible. Let's figure out what the rec centers are doing and how we can do that downtown."

White and Patterson hope that additional focus groups will give them a better idea of what and where things are needed. White suggested that some of the kids who are interested be included in the next stages of riverfront planning, something many of the members of the focus group were interested in.

Darrion Mason, 16, who lives in Brainerd, said he would definitely be interested in being part of the conversation for the next phases of planning downtown.

"It was a different experience," Mason said. "It makes you feel like you're being heard."

Jayla Stone, 13, who lives in East Lake, had a similar reaction to being a member of the group.

"It makes me feel like they care," she said.