Mayor Berke: VW plans downtown welcome center, innovation district presence

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photo Chattanooga Mayor Andy Burke speaks to officials and guests while at the Hunter Museum of American Art on July 15, 2014, as they gather for Volkswagen's announcement that they are investing $600 million to create 2,000 new jobs and expand the Chattanooga plant where they will be producing a new sport utility vehicle.

Volkswagen is planning to team with Chattanooga and Hamilton County to put a $12 million welcome center in downtown.

In addition, the city is aiming to attract for its planned downtown innovation district some of the personnel VW is to hire for the automaker's proposed research and development center.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said he pushed for both measures in meetings with VW over the company's plan to build a new sport utility vehicle at the automaker's plant here.

"I was adamant we have VW's commitment beyond the manufacturing plant," he said.

The welcome center had been eyed for Enterprise South industrial park, but now officials are looking for a site in downtown's "business and tourism district."

Berke said a concept for the welcome center hasn't been finalized. The mayor said, however, that officials want an experience that helps downtown's brand and increases VW's customer base.

Plans are for the welcome center to be finished within two years.

City and county government would match the company's contribution to pay for facility.

VW on Monday unveiled plans to hire 2,000 more workers and invest $600 million into its plant.

See more in Thursday's Times Free Press.

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