Public invited to give feedback on future of riverfront parks Thursday

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Boaters gather to listen to the music during the second day of the 40th Annual Riverbend Festival on June 3.

As they try to increase usage of some of Chattanooga's riverfront parks, officials are requesting public input about the parks on the south side of the Tennessee River, including Ross's Landing, Chattanooga Green and parts of the Tennessee Riverwalk.

A free event Thursday at the Hunter Museum will allow residents to give feedback on what they want the riverfront's future to look like.

Those who attend Thursday's open house -- hosted by the city's Department of Parks and Outdoors, the River City Co. and the Chattanooga Design Studio -- can speak with design teams and interact with the layout of three different models for the riverfront parks on the south side of the Tennessee River.

If you go

— What: Riverfront Parks Open House

— Where: Hunter Museum, 10 Bluff View Ave.

— When: Thursday, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

"That community input and feedback is what is going to inform ultimately this road map for the design and activation of our riverfront parks," River City Co. President and CEO Emily Mack said in a phone interview.

Mack said attendees can interact with the three models, giving feedback on what they want in the parks.

"Putting Post-it notes on things, dropping pins on to various boards," Mack said. "They can prioritize. They can rank. They can visually articulate what they like and what they don't like about various elements, amenities and features."

While the event is free and open to the public, residents are encouraged to RSVP online beforehand.

Following the open house, a survey for residents to give feedback on new designs for the parks will be launched on the riverfront parks website. The survey will close Aug. 6.

Scott Martin, administrator of the Department of Parks and Outdoors, said in a phone interview that plans for the riverfront parks won't be a major overhaul, describing the changes as a family putting new furniture in their living room, with maybe some preferring a sectional while others would want a new couch.

"This is where you test that sort of stuff out," Martin said.

"It's not a massive redo or anything else like that," Martin continued. "Think of it as a tune-up."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga plans to add hundreds of acres of new park space in coming decades)

'Our front door'

Thursday's open house and the design layouts are part of the city's One Riverfront Plan, an initiative launched in 2020 that received input from more than 2,000 Chattanooga residents on the future of the riverfront parks.

Through that public feedback, Eric Myers, executive director of the Chattanooga Design Studio, said residents emphasized the need for shade, water access and more things to do in the park.

"We heard a lot from the community about shade and the ability to be on the riverfront and be at the water's edge," Myers said in a phone interview. "Having places for really, really adventurous play for the young, for people of all ages."

Martin said the group learned residents want a space for average people to congregate year-round.

"It does really well when we want to do a big event, but it's not always the most welcoming for just showing up and hanging out and doing normal park stuff," Martin said. "It doesn't touch people in the same way that we see Coolidge Park and Renaissance Park."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga and Hamilton County Schools partnering to turn schoolyards into public parks)

Myers said the riverfront isn't seeing the daily usage that's desired.

"The riverfront parks just aren't generating people and people visiting the spaces," Myers said. "It's imperative to think about activities and adding activities and different types of experiences on the riverfront right now."

Martin said improving the riverfront space is vital to continuing Chattanooga's growth, describing the parks as "our most sacred civic space in the city."

"It's a differentiator for us. It's that iconic photo that you see all over the nation and world about Chattanooga," Martin said. "It's our front door. It's where we meet a lot of folks, be they residents or tourists."

Mack said the One Riverfront Plan is an opportunity to the meet the riverfront needs of all in the community.

"Whether you are a longtime Chattanooga resident, whether you're a guest or a visitor, whether you're a downtown employee or maybe you're a person who's exploring moving to Chattanooga," Mack said. "The riverfront is where many people -- they really look at that as the nucleus of not just our downtown but our city."

(READ MORE: Opinion: Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's bold parks plan revolutionizes urban spaces and honors John Nolen's 1911 legacy)


After gathering feedback from the open house and the following survey, Mack said the goal is to have designs for changes to the riverfront parks finalized by the end of August.

Martin said in a text that there currently is no money allocated from the Department of Parks and Outdoors toward the project but construction would cause the department to "pivot into a funding position at some undetermined level."

Myers said waterfront projects are complex and will take time to complete.

"What this process really does is outline a framework for those strategies to hold together," Myers said. "A more detailed design will have to be put in place for either pieces of the park, which makes a lot of sense -- segments of the parks in phases -- or taking on the entire project at once."

Contact Ben Sessoms at or 423-757-6354.