Business owners in Chattanooga's Patten Square celebrate the end of construction disruption

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / People gather for the opening of Patten Square, as the sculpture, "Radiance" dominates the scene. Patten Parkway, now known as Patten Square, has received a dramatic makeover including a new street layout and art installation. A ribbon-cutting officially opened the renovation on July 23, 2021.

Beth Adkins opened the French Quarters salon on Patten Parkway in the 1980s, and she has seen a lot change from her downtown spot between Lindsay Street and Georgia Avenue. But nothing could have prepared her for the combination of two years of construction at her doorstep and a pandemic, she said.

"The challenges we faced were off the charts, but we faced them and we grew from them," Adkins said. "There were times I considered leaving. I even bought property on the other side of town."

Adkins stayed put, though, and on Friday morning she watched the grand opening of the completely overhauled - and renamed - Patten Square from the doorway of her salon.

"It is wonderful to be here now," she said. "The parking is much more accessible. The meters are more up to date - they take credit cards. It's handicapped accessible," Adkins said.

Construction on the new Patten Square design began in August 2019, and was expected to take a year, but several factors doubled the timeline, including unexpected work that had to be done to shore up the buildings' foundations on the north side of the parkway before sidewalk pavers could be installed.

"All of those buildings had basements that protruded into the sidewalk, so the sidewalk was hollow underneath," said Blythe Bailey, administrator of the Chattanooga Department of Transportation.

The pandemic, which hit nine months after construction began, also slowed things down, Bailey said.

"I can't quantify this, but the pandemic also affected the construction schedule," he said. "Labor became challenging."

About $1.5 million of the project - which ultimately took two years and cost $4.75 million - was funded by donors including the Benwood Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and the Lyndhurst Foundation.

Though the project's timeline doubled, the budget stayed on target from original estimates, Bailey said.

"We built in some contingency, as we always do, and that was very useful to us," he said.

KaDeadra McNealy, who moved her Millennial Nail Bar business from East Chattanooga to Patten Square in June, said the first weeks in the space were tough as construction was continuing.

"It was weird when they put in the big fences," she said. "But it was worth it."

Tiffany Pauldon-Banks, owner of Lil Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy, opened her restaurant in the area in January, and the timing was not ideal, she said.

"I opened during construction and during a pandemic," she said. "That was not fun, but all good things are worth the wait."

Since the project wrapped up, the space has come to life, Pauldon-Banks said.

"It's just been full of so much life and fun since the project has been cleared, there's a real sense of community," she said. "We're excited to see where we'll be next year."

The old space had been designed for parking and not for pedestrians, and the new design turns Patten Square into an open plaza where cars can still park, but space for pedestrians dominates, Bailey said.

"What we did was sort of invert how the space works," he said. "We knew we needed to accommodate vehicles and parking but now we've consolidated vehicle circulation in the middle and multiplied by two-and-a-half times the space available for people."

Charles Paty and his siblings own the buildings that occupy most of the north side of the block and have six tenants in the square. The headaches of construction were worth the outcome, Paty said.

"They're trying to get more people to come down and utilize the area, and it's working," he said. "I think as far as the concept, it's good, though I hated that it took longer than it was scheduled to."

Not everyone was able to hang in there, though. Chris and Dale Victoria Curtis, the owners of Blue Ivy Flowers, did not want to leave their spot on the corner of Lindsay Street and Georgia Avenue, but the construction delivered a big blow to their business, and then the pandemic hit.

By September 2020, they were weary of both the construction - which lopped 15% to 20% off their business from the outset - and the pandemic, which delivered yet another blow. The pair packed up and took over operation of Ensign the Florist in October 2020, moving Blue Ivy Flowers into the shop in Rossville.

They love their new arrangement in Rossville, but the Curtises took a spin through the now-completed Patten Square this week and liked what they saw.

"I would personally love to go back there, and we've talked about it," Chris said. "That corner is still for rent."

Contact Mary Fortune at Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.