Business owners along Chattanooga's Station Street may have to contribute financially for security services on the roadway if the City Council approves proposed changes brought forward by two members.
The council is eyeing new safety measures for downtown's Station Street aimed at beefing up security on the roadway and restricting all vehicle traffic during the busiest hours.
The panel discussed a proposed ordinance during its legislative committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. The ordinance is being co-sponsored by Vice Chairwoman Raquetta Dotley, of East Lake, and Councilwoman Marvene Noel, of Orchard Knob.
A popular entertainment spot near the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Station Street is in the council district represented by Noel, but the corridor is also close to the border of Dotley's district. Dotley said she frequently receives calls from constituents in that area.
"The basic issue is public safety," Dotley told her colleagues. "There have been persistent issues with crime that spills out into the Main Street, Cowart Place area."
Dotley and Noel are bringing forward two amendments to the city's existing rules.
Dotley said one would prohibit vehicle traffic on Station Street between Market Street and Rossville Avenue from 8 p.m. Thursday through 7 a.m. Sunday. Businesses would coordinate with the Chattanooga Department of Transportation to ensure the road is closed, she said. Cars would continue to have access to parking via Main Street and an open alleyway off of Rossville Avenue.
"I don't know if any of you have been on Station Street during these hours, but there's people there, there's traffic there, and it causes a lot of confusion and cluster, especially because there's open drinking," she told council members. "In addition to that, a lot of times issues spill out into the street, and you have people driving by."
Additionally, each business on or adjacent to Station Street would be required to collectively provide general security for the roadway, she said.
"Right now, some of the businesses have individual security, but there's no security on Station Street, and that also leads into that public safety issue," Dotley said. "Because let's say there's an incident at one of the nightclubs ... It spills out into the street. There's no one there to regulate that. There's no one talking to the Chattanooga Police Department. There's nothing, and then it rolls on over into Cowart Place, it rolls on over into Read Avenue."
In an interview after the meeting, Dotley reiterated that while businesses have their own security, there's no security specifically on the road.
"While we want to have great businesses, and we want, of course, to have a great economy, we also want public safety," she said. "So businesses collectively contributing financially to a security firm -- or however they want to do the security -- that helps with Station Street specifically is what we're aiming for. Of course, this legislation needs a lot of work, but we'll work those details and kinks out."
Other council members Tuesday had suggestions about language in the proposed amendments. They also asked whether the changes had received input from first responders and how they would work in practice.
"I think the idea is a great one," Councilwoman Carol Berz, of Brainerd Hills, said during the panel's legislative committee meeting. "I just want to make sure it works. I feel like there may be all sorts of challenges to it from the private sector, and I just want to make sure that we're solid."
Noting that there's still more research to be done, Dotley said she doesn't yet have a timeline for when the changes may appear on the council's agenda for a vote.
"From the time I took office on this council in April 2021, I've had calls from residents that live in apartment buildings on Main Street, residents that live in that area that are consistently dealing with these issues," Dotley said, adding that businesses outside that area are often unfairly blamed for problems that originate on Station Street. "It's just a lot to deal with when some simple legislation can really address those issues in a very easy way."
City Attorney Phil Noblett said in an interview Tuesday that the state normally requires alcohol sales be confined inside, but state officials can designate certain areas where outside containers are allowed, such as Beale Street in Memphis.
Calling the area "crime-infested," state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has introduced a bill that would repeal a 2016 law that allows customers to carry alcohol onto Station Street. Proponents of the original legislation wanted visitors to be able to bring drinks onto the roadway, where they would be able to enjoy live entertainment.
Gardenhire did not immediately respond to a text message Tuesday evening asking about the status of that bill.
Contact David Floyd at email@example.com or 423-757-6249.