Rossville Boulevard area residents and merchants, trying to re-energize the corridor that is Chattanooga's southern front door, are eyeing creation of a business improvement district.
Also, the proposed $79.4 million Chattanooga Lookouts multiuse stadium is to go up not far away in the South Broad District, and the new facility will offer opportunities to the area, a city official said.
"The stadium is coming," City Councilwoman Raquetta Dotley said. "We want to take advantage of it."
Nearly a dozen people, seeking to infuse new growth into the key artery and the neighborhoods around it, met last week with Chattanooga planners. An updated regional plan for the area that's likely to look at zoning, transportation, infrastructure and other factors is expected to kick off in the near future.
Jazmine LeBlanc, who is helping lead a grassroots group called The Blvd Project to revive the Rossville Boulevard corridor, said enhancements are needed in the area that has seen business closings and population shifts over the years.
"We've got to get people using the space better than it's used," the East Lake resident said. "It's depressing. What can we do about it?"
People who live and work in the area are examining if a business improvement district will make sense, LeBlanc said.
"We want to see if people are interested in it," she said.
Only one such district exists in Hamilton County, and that's in part of downtown Chattanooga. Business improvement districts often help designated areas deal with issues such as safety, cleanliness, beautification and marketing. In the downtown district formed about three years ago, a fee is assessed on property owners after a majority agreed to form the district.
Dan Reuter, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, told the Rossville Boulevard group to think not just about the road but also the entire district. The group can try to include the big property owners in a business improvement district and thereby collect more money to be used for improvements, he said.
"If you wait for government to do what you want, it takes too long," Reuter said. "Also, BIDs have greater political leverage."
Dotley, of East Lake, said at the meeting that getting buy-in from businesses in the area is helpful.
"It's definitely something to try," she said, calling the boulevard corridor "an overlooked area" but one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city. The area has become home to a growing Hispanic community.
Melonie Lusk, executive director of the community-focused sustainable urban farm Crabtree Farms in the area, said economic growth and safety are two issues in which she's interested.
She said in an interview that she'd like to see a safer way to cross the busy road, and there was some discussion about the installation of at least one signalized crosswalk. Estimates are that the corridor averages 25,000 vehicles daily, according to officials.
Spurring economic vitality in the area would help businesses and residents, Bill Rush, chief executive of Metropolitan Ministries, said.
Rush would like to see the creation of "true affordable housing" and a way to slow traffic down on the boulevard, he said.
"Walkability is a problem," Rush said in an interview. "Biking is a problem."
In addition, there are a number of vacant properties along the road, he said.
Karen Hundt, the Regional Planning Agency's director of community planning and design, said part of the reason for the vacancies is a shift to outside the city's core.
"There's a lot of old commercial buildings" on the boulevard, she said in an interview, noting businesses have moved out to the bustling Hamilton Place area and beyond.
Also, some manufacturers have moved away or closed in the area, Hundt said.
"It's never just one thing," she said.
Danny Ross, a Regional Planning Agency senior planner, said an improvement could involve updating CARTA's routes in the area.
"This is an important region for them in terms of ridership ... where people get on and off," he said at the meeting.
Ross said one beneficial way to think about the boulevard is not as a long corridor, but breaking it down into smaller parts or node areas.
In addition, there was discussion about opening up the boulevard to more small businesses and mixed-use space.
(READ MORE: Revitalization of Rossville area joins forces across state lines)
The Blvd Project has "really wanted to make a positive difference," LeBlanc said.
People on the Tennessee side of the boulevard can work with those on the Georgia side as well, she said. The Rossville Downtown Development Authority has been working with The Blvd Project, officials said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.