Chattanooga riverfront plan to be unveiled by early summer as roundtables set for March on ideas

Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd/ The Tennessee Aquarium anchors the riverfront downtown in this view looking north up Broad Street from a parking garage between Broad and Chestnut streets. Planners are studying ways to re-energize the waterfront from Fourth Street to the river.

Planners are aiming for late spring or early summer to finally unveil a road map to re-energize downtown Chattanooga's waterfront after the effort was delayed due to the pandemic.

Next month, the ONE Riverfront initiative will hold a series of online roundtable meetings to share ideas expressed so far to boost the waterfront district and to hear feedback.

Emily Mack, president and CEO of River City Co., said the goal of ONE Riverfront is to develop a greater sense of a place for Chattanoogans to connect and enjoy through programming and activation.

"We have heard many great ideas so far and want to continue the conversation to further explore all that is possible for the space," she said.

Four sessions that will include the same material and information are set. March 2 sessions will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. On March 4, sessions will be from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

People can RSVP for one of the sessions and learn more about the project at www., according to River City, the city's downtown nonprofit redevelopment group overseeing the study.

ONE Riverfront was kicked off in late 2019 after the district had lost some of its energy compared to other parts of the downtown area.

Dawn Hjelseth, the group's vice president of marketing and communication, said she didn't think the delay in the plan's completion will hinder the final result.

"It's taking much longer than anticipated. They've been spending time in being intentional and additional community outreach," he said.

Hjelseth said Chattanooga likely will emerge from the pandemic as a more attractive city. Studies have show that many people are exiting large cities and moving to mid-size ones such as Chattanooga, she said.

Hjelseth noted the city was recently named by PC magazine as the best place in America to work from home.

"I think Chattanooga will do better than other cities across the nation," she said.

Columbus, Ohio-based urban design and planning firm MKSK was hired to lead the study, financed by River City and the Lyndhurst and Benwood foundations. The plan's cost wasn't revealed. The original plan was slated for unveiling July 4 of last year.

Despite social distancing and other issues created by the pandemic, planners continued to gather information and ideas. Hjelseth said that since the first session, over 1,500 people have contributed ideas to guide the vision for the future of the riverfront district.

"We hope to have a good turn out" next month, she said.

The future of Riverfront Parkway, the Chattanooga Lookouts home at AT&T Field, the Tennessee Aquarium's connection to the river, and ways to make Fourth, Broad and Market streets more people and business friendly were to undergo study.

In addition, the development of parking lots around the aquarium, the Creative Discovery Museum and others in the district will be examined, according to officials.

Darren Meyer, principal at MKSK, said early in the project that the firm does a lot of work with cities returning to their riverfronts. He said what's unusual is that Chattanooga was a pioneer in doing so, and now it wants to take another look with fresh eyes.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.