City leaders seeking public input to help grow Chattanooga’s music scene

Contributed photo / The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium can be divided into two configurations, seating either 2,200 or 3,800. While classified as a small- to medium-sized arena, the theater is Chattanooga's largest active entertainment venue.
Contributed photo / The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium can be divided into two configurations, seating either 2,200 or 3,800. While classified as a small- to medium-sized arena, the theater is Chattanooga's largest active entertainment venue.

Chattanooga city leaders want to hit all the right notes when it comes to growing the local music scene, but they need the public's input.

Available online until March 6, the Chattanooga Tourism Co. is conducting a Music Venue Economic Search Study aimed at gathering insights on how to enhance the city's musical options. The more people who participate, the more data city leaders have to make informed decisions.

The list of questions takes about 10 minutes to complete and asks for information such as the types of live entertainment attendees typically enjoy, satisfaction levels with the diversity of musical programming and whether residents travel to see shows or attend locally. The questionnaire is being conducted in partnership with a study being done by Convention Sports & Leisure International, a planning firm that specializes in services to the convention, sports, entertainment and visitor industries.

Stratton Tingle, executive director for SoundCorps, describes the survey as a "North Star" for the growth of Chattanooga's music scene. SoundCorps is a nonprofit focused on building Chattanooga's music economy, helping its members build their careers and activating local spaces through live performances.

"Our mission is to see Chattanooga become one of America's great music cities," Tingle said in a phone interview. "And we can't do that without strong partnerships; and none of it can happen without a lot of public input."

Tingle noted key areas of development in Chattanooga right now -- The Bend, the proposed stadium site on the Southside and the Riverfront -- stressing the role music venues have in attracting tourism and business to those areas.

(READ MORE: City looking for music industry people to complete census this fall)

He also mentioned smaller venues like changes on Station Street, the new Barrelhouse Ballroom, the relocation of Songbirds to Main Street, renovations to the Tivoli Theater -- as well as two of Chattanooga's biggest music festivals, Moon River and Riverbend, both of which are on "temporary pause."

"All of this is in flux right now. There are a lot of moving parts at this point in time," Tingle said. "So the more input the Tourism Co. can get through the survey ... the better community leaders can assess how much people value music and what we can plan for, which will be crucial to the success of music in Chattanooga."

The Tivoli Theater Foundation books and promotes shows for three of Chattanooga's largest indoor performance venues. The organization oversees the Walker Theatre, which seats 850 people; Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, which has two configurations that can seat either 2,200 or 3,800; and the Tivoli Theatre, which is undergoing restoration, but can seat 1,700.

Foundation CEO Nick Wilkinson said the three theaters bring in about 150 shows per year combined, not including local performances by the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, ballet, graduations and other community events.

"Every other night there's something happening at one of our venues," he said in a phone interview.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga's Tivoli Theatre Foundation shows $43.6 million local economic impact)

The Tivoli Foundation was established in 2015 to oversee the management and preservation of the iconic theater. Following its creation, a major revitalization project began in late 2022, with an anticipated reopening of late 2025.

Wilkinson said the theaters have grown substantially since the foundation was established.

"What that's done is put us on the map," he said. "We're bringing in 'Hamilton' next year, which is the biggest show on the planet when it comes to Broadway. It's one of the biggest Broadway sensations of all time.

"The people bringing that to market have to have extreme confidence (in the theater management). When we started in 2015, that was not the case. Since then, we've built a track record that Chattanooga is a viable destination. But it's taken a lot of hard work and financial investment to make that happen."

Wilkinson noted the profitability of the theater shows, which have helped generate funds used toward the Tivoli revitalization projects. Since the time the foundation went into effect, approximately $16 million has been invested into restoring the Memorial/Walker and Tivoli theaters.

"Maintaining and investing these theaters, the economics can be challenging ... and you need a variety of acts," he said. "We would love to have even more shows. We're projecting growth. We're going to be staying in tune with what kinds of shows our community wants."

According to the Chattanooga Tourism Co., Hamilton County hosts more than 15 million visitors each year who spend $1.5 billion in the community. On an average day, that's 43,000 visitors spending $4.1 million, with about 15,000 visitors who spend the night in local hotels. Visitor spending includes local sales taxes that save each Hamilton County household $1,138 on their property tax bill each year.

Chattanooga Tourism CEO and President Barry White said resident participation in the survey is pivotal to shaping the future music scene.

Find the survey online at bit.ly/MusicVenueStudy.

Contact Jennifer McNally at jmcnally@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

  photo  Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Crowds gather Sept. 9 along the Walnut Street Bridge to catch musical acts playing at the Moon River Festival in Coolidge Park. In January, Moon River's co-founders announced the festival is cancelled for this year, but that they are hopeful for a return in 2025.
 
 


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