New downtown Chattanooga riverfront plan reveals more housing, business, local activity

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ The Tennessee Aquarium anchors Chattanooga's downtown riverfront in this view looking north up Broad Street from a parking garage between Broad and Chestnut streets.

In the biggest proposed remake to Chattanooga's downtown riverfront in nearly two decades, planners on Tuesday unveiled an array of proposals aimed at drawing more locals and daily use.

Attracting more affordable housing and businesses, reworking Broad Street into a better pedestrian corridor, enhancing public space and refreshing the Riverwalk are among the ideas revealed in a new master plan nearly 18 months in the making.

"I have great confidence in the plan," Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said to about 100 people at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Kelly said the city is "already committed to the Broad Street redo."

That makeover would turn the key artery into a two-lane road with a turn lane at major intersections, with wide sidewalks, bike paths and on-street parking to Fourth Street.

Emily Mack, president and chief executive officer of the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group River City Co., said over 2,000 people offered input to the One Riverfront Plan.

The blueprint is "an evolution of the riverfront district," said Mack, whose group oversaw the creation of the plan that's aimed at injecting more energy into the riverfront.

Planners said the aim was to build on the 21st Century Waterfront Project, which revamped the Ross's Landing area along the Tennessee River almost 20 years ago.

The proposal foresees new multi-story buildings raised on existing parking lots between Riverfront Parkway and the hill that holds the Chattanooga Lookouts ballpark.

Darren Meyer of the planning firm MKSK said the site creates an opportunity for mixed-use affordable housing with commercial space on the ground floor, including for minority-owned businesses.

Also, there is space for restaurants nearby at Chestnut and Riverfront Parkway near the existing Chattanooga Green as well as a gathering spot nearer Hunter Museum of American Art, he said.

The aim is to create the riverfront's "front door" and provide a lot of public-facing street activities, Meyer said.

Meanwhile, plans call for creating "a civic campus" in the blocks around the aquarium. That could include a circular park at the end of Broad Street near the aquarium, the plan shows. In addition, water features could be updated in the area around the aquarium along with creating a safer way to cross Riverfront Parkway, Meyer said.

Broad Street would offer wide sidewalks for pedestrians and tables for cafes, according to the plan. Its intersection with Fourth Street would become more pedestrian-friendly, the plan showed, with the target to better connect to the rest of downtown.

Mack said the plan excluded any future use for the Chattanooga Lookouts' home, depending on whether the team ultimately moves to a new ballpark. The Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe site in the South Broad District has been named as a recommended location for a multi-use facility. If the Lookouts do move, a similar planning process to One Riverfront would take place on their existing site, the River City CEO said.

Mack said the plan doesn't address funding at this point. Work will start on designing aspects of the blueprint with the city to attach solid dollar figures, she said.

Kelly said that the riverfront district can't just serve tourists, but must serve local residents as well. To that end, the plan envisions making Ross's Landing park more inviting with shade trees, comfortable seating and natural play areas with swings and added flowers and art.

Andrew Overbeck of MKSK said that during the pandemic, people across the country have flocked to open spaces.

"Our hope is to take that energy and spread it to every corner of the riverfront district," he said.

Mack said efforts to program and animate the riverfront to draw more people to the area on a daily basis are already in the works.

"You'll start to see that roll out," she said.

The plan identifies use of other district parking lots for possible new development. For example, the aquarium parking lot at Chestnut Street and Aquarium Way could hold "a signature structure" such as a headquarters building, Mack said.

"We're identifying future opportunities," Meyer said.

Additionally, Meyer said, the Riverwalk between Georgia Avenue and Market Street could be incorporated into the sidewalk along Riverfront Parkway and refreshed.

Some people who attended the plan's unveiling said they liked the ideas, though there were questions.

Doug Carlson of Chattanooga said the redevelopment of the parking lots between Riverfront Parkway and the hill is "a big deal."

"Affordable housing is such a big topic," he said.

But Deborah Mynatt of Chattanooga wondered about taking away that parking and where large events such as Head of the Hooch and Ironman would stage their competitions.

Mack said there have been talks with event organizers and those would continue in the future.

"We just have to plan," she said.

Mynatt's daughter, Grace, questioned putting buildings at some other parking lots around the aquarium, such as at Chestnut and Aquarium Way.

"The aquarium is our monument," she said.

One Riverfront was started a year and a half ago to address the loss of energy at the waterfront compared to other parts of downtown, such as the Southside.

Keith Sanford, who heads the aquarium, said at the time that the district "has lost some of its shine" to other parts of downtown, citing vacant restaurants as an example.

"I think this can help revitalize that," Sanford said.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.