River City Company’s Emily Mack predicts a big year for Chattanooga

Photography by Robin Rudd / Emily Mack, president and CEO of River City Co., at the River City offices.

Emily Mack knew she had historic-sized challenges ahead of her when she relocated to Chattanooga in October of 2020.

The global pandemic had, essentially, only just begun. Vaccinations had not yet been developed. Workers had been given stay-at-home orders. Businesses were struggling to survive. And downtowns everywhere were desolate.

"The pandemic, far and away, has been the greatest challenge for The River City Company (RCC) for downtown," says Mack, who moved here to serve as the company president and CEO. "It was the greatest challenge for downtowns throughout the U.S. and the world, for that matter."

Today, going on three years later, she likes what she sees in terms of the city's recovery. She lists all sorts of signs of success: the restoration of the John Ross Buildng and new hiring by Steam Logistics, record numbers of new residents, new office spaces and all sorts of new events and activities.

"So, yes -- we went through an extraordinarily challenging time for our city, country and world. However, downtown Chattanooga has made an incredible recovery," she says. "It doesn't mean we don't have work still to do, because there are elements of downtown, especially with the impact of remote work, that we feel very significantly in some areas. But in many ways, downtown has made a great recovery."

One of the RCC's many city revitalization efforts was the creation of the first-ever "Rock the Riverfront" event -- a month-long celebration of culture and entertainment held on the Chattanooga Green. In 2022, visitors enjoyed giant electronically-lit see-saws. This year, beginning March 17, the RCC is bringing visitors Los Trompos ("spinning tops" in Spanish) -- eight larger-than-life spinning structures for interactive play.

  photo  Communities throughout the U.S. and Canada have experienced the interactive play of Los Trompos, as pictured here in Saint Jean Sur Richelieu, a city within the Canadian province of Quebec. The colorful spinning tops will come to Chattanooga from mid-March through mid-April as part of this year's "Rock the Riverfront" celebration. / Photo courtesy of The River City Company

And Mack is excited about it.

"We are getting ready to go into one of the most spectacular times of the year," she says. "One of the things I love about downtown is that from March, well into November and December, there is always something going on. So whatever your interests are, there is something going on."

But "Rock the Riverfront" is just one of numerous RCC projects, initiatives and partnerships that enliven the city throughout the year. Many fall under the ONE Riverfront plan, which brings together input from more than 2,300 residents and organizations on how to better humanize the riverfront area, making the parks and public spaces more accessible and usable for all Chattanoogans.

Last month, the RCC dug into yet another of its initiatives -- a comprehensive downtown market study. The analysis was developed to help get an understanding of downtown, especially in terms of post-pandemic growth, focusing on factors like the impact of remote work, market demand, market absorption and gaps in the market.

And the group is also heavily involved in "Reimagining Broad Street," a large-scale initiative to better utilize one of the city's most important, most traveled thoroughfares. The three main focus points that surfaced during the ONE Riverfront discussions were that Chattanoogans would like for the area to be safer, greener and livelier.

"While we were working on humanizing the riverfront, something that was expressed by our Chattanooga community was that we were missing big opportunities with Broad Street," she says. "We have a great opportunity to be a people-centered, vibrant and welcoming street -- and it needs some help."

Mack moved to Chattanooga from Indianapolis, a city with a population of about 1 million. And when she looks at the quality and quantity of events available here, she can't help but be impressed. The Scenic City "punches way above its weight class," she says.

And she never stops thinking about ways to make it better.

"When I look at Chattanooga, I see a great big neighborhood," says Mack. "And when I think about what makes a complete and healthy neighborhood, it's access to housing -- all types for all residents. It's access to jobs, education, health care, recreation, parks and outdoors, arts and culture, transportation.

"All of those things feed together to create a vibrant robust healthy community."

  photo  From left, Kat Wright, Public Art Program Coordinator for the City of Chattanooga, Eric Meyer Executive Director of the Chattanooga Design Studio, Mayor Tim Kelly and Emily Mack share a laugh during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for renovations to Patten Square on July 23, 2021. / Staff photo by Robin Rudd


* Job: President and CEO of River City Company

* Education: Master's of science in historic preservation, architecture and urban planning from Ball State University; bachelor's of science in history from Bradley University

* Career: Prior to joining River City Company, Mack served as the director of the Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) with the City of Indianapolis.

* Civic involvement: Mack currently serves on the boards of the Chattanooga Tourism Company, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the Enterprise Center and the Girl Scouts of Southern Appalachians. She is a member of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, the Chamber's Public Policy Committee, the American Planning Association, Chattanooga Downtown Rotary, International Downtown Association, and the Urban Land Institute.

-- The River City Company is a private non-profit that works with local government, the private sector and the philanthropic sector to support downtown Chattanooga. Its mission is to cultivate and advocate for a vibrant, healthy downtown and to stimulate the community's economic, social and cultural growth.

-- ONE Riverfront Chattanooga is a community-driven plan to envision and develop a roadmap for the future of the Riverfront District. Since launching in 2020, more than 2,300 community voices have shared their hopes and desires to reimagine, reposition and reactivate the Riverfront for all Chattanoogans.

  photo  Emily Mack spoke with community members during the "Reimagining Broad Street" hands-on event held at the Tennessee Aquarium on January 10, 2023. / Photo courtesy of The River City Company