Gerber: Texans learn lessons from Tennessee

Gerber: Texans learn lessons from Tennessee

September 16th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

Corpus Christi, Texas, is 1,040 miles and a couple of cultures away from Chattanooga.

It's a seaside city with a large port on Corpus Christi Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico. Chattanooga, on the other hand, sits snugly in an area of ridges, waterfalls and mountains.

Corpus Christi's population is nearly double Chattanooga's. And it has the triple influences of the Southern United States, Texas (which residents insist is its own special world) and its next-door neighbor Mexico.

But the cities have a few things in common.

For starters, they both claim cute nicknames: Chattanooga is known as the Scenic City and Corpus Christi promotes itself as the Sparkling City by the Sea.

And leaders in the Texas port city of more than 300,000 are eyeing our city. Specifically, they're studying the revitalization of the 1980s that took Chattanooga from a smoggy drive-through to an attractive destination and desirable place to live.

They hope Chattanooga's waterfront revival will be a model for proposed redevelopment of Corpus Christi's bayfront area.

The Texans hope to turn land along their city's waterfront into a recreation area and, in turn, revitalize their downtown, a place where "dozens of vacant storefronts remain," according the local newspaper.

Because that's pretty much what happened here a few decades ago, the Corpus Christi Caller Times sent a reporter to Chattanooga to examine whether our city's transformation could be a blueprint for Corpus Christi. The Texas newspaper published a package of stories and photos last Sunday.

The stories start with an unflattering description of Chattanooga as a "polluted, industrial wasteland of a city" that transformed itself in the 1980s.

"Residents knew the city would fade away if they didn't do something," the story states.

The reporter, Jessica Savage, interviewed locals, including Times editorial page editor Harry Austin. She wrote not just about the revitalization that started in the '80s and the second wave of redevelopment in 2005 - the 21st Century Waterfront plan - but about the things that make Chattanooga unique (and maybe even a little bit trendy): ArtsMove, GeekMove, the Gig Tank completion, as well as public art, super-fast Internet, entrepreneurs helping startup companies, efforts to reverse the city's brain drain and lure local kids back after college.

Over the years, Chattanooga's redevelopment has been reported in various magazines and newspapers, including by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. And it has been studied by a number of cities.

So, best of luck Corpus Christi. You could do a lot worse than to have a downtown resembling Chattanooga's.

Read "Blueprint for the bayfront: Chattanooga waterfront development could be model for Corpus Christi."

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfreepress.com.