Chattanooga riverfront revamp: First Street makeover, new riverfront plan in play as changes eyed

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ The Tennessee Aquarium anchors the riverfront in this view looking north up Broad Street from a parking garage between Broad and Chestnut streets. River City Co. has hired consultants to help study ways to energize the riverfront from Fourth Street to the river.

A $1.5 million remake is eyed along First Street in downtown Chattanooga, replacing the people-mover that often didn't work, even as an effort to re-energize the entire riverfront will be outlined this week.

The makeover of the First Street walkway between Market and Cherry streets will help turn that corridor into what officials call "an art promenade experience" as pedestrians travel from the Tennessee Aquarium to the Bluff View Art District.

The First Street work will be loosely based off of Las Ramblas, the popular boulevard in Barcelona, Spain, according to the nonprofit, downtown redevelopment group River City Co.

Heavy landscaping and interactive art pieces will highlight the revamped streetscape, said Amy Donahue of River City. Some of the art pieces - large blocks - will go where the people-mover, or funicular, that often broke down was located, she said.

photo Staff file photo / In 2005, Chris Breedlove, left, and Eugene Boshears of East Tennessee Grading work on the installation of an incline elevator to carry people up the hill on First Street between Market and Cherry streets.

"People will be able to traverse that space, sit on the blocks," Donahue said about the part of the street from Market to Cherry. "There will be different paving in that space."

The city is paying $800,000 for the project, with River City putting up the remainder with contributions from the Lyndhurst and Benwood foundations, officials said.

Jim Williamson, River City's vice president of planning and development, said the pedestrian corridor will ultimately connect to the Bluff View on one end and the Chattanooga Green park next to the aquarium on the other side.

"It's how to tie everything together in a more formalized walk," he said.

One Riverfront

The First Street upgrade comes as River City on Wednesday offers the initial community meeting in the One Riverfront Chattanooga planning process to inject more energy into downtown's entire waterfront area.

Kicked off late last year, the effort will chart the district's future and try to spur more activity. It will include the Chattanooga Lookouts' home on Hawk Hill, potential changes to Riverfront Parkway, the aquarium's tie to the Tennessee River, and ways to make Fourth, Broad and Market streets more people and business friendly.


BY THE NUMBERS * Study area: 122 acres * Riverfront: 4,200 linear feet of waterfront * Existing residents: 620 * Average home value: $598,000 * Jobs: 2,350 in study area * Surface parking area: 21 acres Source: River City Co.

At the meeting at the aquarium on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., consultants conducting the study will let people offer input into what's missing in the riverfront and what keeps local families from visiting, according to River City.

Kim White, who heads River City, said that while the riverfront is special, it's far from complete.

"Planning for the future of our city is in our DNA," she said. "It's time to uncover what the next steps for our riverfront are and how, as a community, we can make those a reality," she said.

The plan, to be ready in the summer, will look at the district bordered by the river, Fourth Street, Cameron Hill and Bluff View.

White, citing the loss of energy at the riverfront while other parts of downtown are flourishing, said parking revenues are down 20% in the waterfront district, for example.

"It should be an area that is used by locals just as much as those visiting our community," she said.

'The Scramble'

Donahue said the upgrade along First Street, which was identified in an earlier study and is dubbed "The Scramble," shows that no one has stopped working, thinking about or investing in the riverfront.

"We're not starting from ground zero or from a place where there's no momentum," she said.

The Scramble project name comes from the idea of hopping from rock to rock, Donahue said. She said that First Street itself will stay in place, though it may be temporarily closed at times during construction. Work on The Scramble is to start in March and be complete by year's end, officials said.

Planning for the future of our city is in our DNA.

The funicular had come about as part of the 21st Century Waterfront Project, which emerged from former Mayor Bob Corker's administration. That $120 million project, completed around 2005, transformed the Ross's Landing area. It built on the earlier construction of the aquarium and other riverfront development.

While the Waterfront Project was well received, the funicular aimed at carrying people up and down First Street didn't operate as designed.

Williamson said it wasn't in operation often due to breakdowns. Finally, the city determined that it needed to be manned on a daily basis because it was "like a ride," he said, and it was taken out of service.

Michael Singer of Michael Singer Studio in Wilmington, Vermont, and Delray Beach, Florida, is the artist and designer behind The Scramble, according to River City. His works are part of public collections in the Guggenheim Museum and The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Australian National Gallery in Canberra.


The first community meeting for the downtown riverfront area public planning process will be Wednesday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.