Chattanooga City Council puts hold on city's surplus buildings request

Chattanooga City Council puts hold on city's surplus buildings request

August 14th, 2018 by Judy Walton in Breaking News

Updated at 8:49 p.m. on Tuesday, August 14, 2018.

Stacy Richardson

Stacy Richardson

Unable to provide specifics to the Chattanooga City Council or the public about its plans for disposing of three city-owned buildings for private development, Mayor Andy Berke on Monday asked for more time.

On Tuesday night, the council voted to table a resolution declaring the buildings surplus and transferring them to the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Committee.

In other business


The Chattanooga City Council also:

Gave final approval to an ordinance allowing food trucks on public streets and property in certain zones and with proper permits;

Declined to make a motion to hold a public hearing on de-annexation of two tracts on Middle Valley Road;

Held a discussion about criteria for payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreements with Charles Woods of the Chattanooga Chamber;

Heard a presentation from the Mayor's Council for Women regarding a recently completed study on the consequences of inadequate sexuality education;

Received departmental updates from the Chattanooga Fire Department and the Youth and Family Development Center.

The mayor's office has been talking about redeveloping those buildings — the City Hall Annex on 11th Street, the Water Building on Lindsay Street and the former city wellness center on 1oth Street — for months.

Berke has proposed turning the buildings for redevelopment as part of the Innovation District, perhaps for business, retail and moderate-income housing.

But even on the day of the council's first vote whether to declare the buildings surplus, the administration had not answered questions the council and the public have been asking for weeks: What are the buildings worth? Who might buy them, and for what re-use? Where would the city employees whose offices are in those buildings go and how much would it cost to relocate them?

At the council's strategic planning session Tuesday, Berke's chief of staff, Stacy Richardson, said it would be "very fair" to delay the vote while the administration hones its approach.

Rather than declaring the building surplus as a first step, she said, that could become step three or four, while other questions are answered.

"I think there is a true potential to put these properties back on the tax rolls and make them part of the thriving Innovation District," Richardson said.

Councilman Jerry Mitchell said he had talked with the administration and thanked Berke's staff for being willing to adjust the timing. He said the council wants to ensure minority and female participation in the projects.

"We understand disparities in the communities, and the council is working with the administration to step up and do something about it," Mitchell said. "We want to put our money and our votes where our mouth is to show some improvements in the minority community."

Councilmen Chip Henderson and Darrin Ledford agreed.

"This is a great opportunity but we certainly need all the facts in order to make the right decision," Henderson said.

Council members supported another economic development change proposed by the administration. They voted 9-0 to pump more money into and ease requirements for the Small Business Incentive Grant Program and the Innovation District Grant Program in hopes of getting more businesses to participate.

Charita Allen, with the city's economic development office, said both programs give money grants to businesses that hire new workers.

The small business grant would double, from $500 to $1,000, for companies that hired five or more workers and extend the time period from a year to 18 months.

Allen said 24 businesses have collected awards averaging $2,400 since the program started in 2015.

The Innovation District grant was created in 2015 and no companies have applied so far, she said. So the city wants to reduce the number of jobs from 25 to 10, extend the period from a year to 18 months, and quadruple the incentive from $250 to $1,000 per job.

In addition, the grant will be available across the city, not just in the Innovation District, to companies that are in the business of innovation or creation.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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