M.L. King extension to Chattanooga waterfront gets OK for work to start

M.L. King extension to Chattanooga waterfront gets OK for work to start

December 21st, 2018 by Mike Pare in Breaking News

This rendering shows the area where M.L. King Boulevard is proposed to be extended across Riverfront Parkway to a Tennessee Riverwalk trailhead.

Illustration by Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects PLLC

Updated at 5:31 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, with more information.

Work is expected to start in January on the planned new link from West M.L. King Boulevard to Chattanooga's waterfront after officials Friday approved a final financing step.

The city's Industrial Development Board OK'd documents related to a $3.5 million loan to extend M.L. King to the Tennessee River, vastly improving the link to the Riverwalk at the Blue Goose Hollow Trailhead.

Charita Allen, the city's deputy administrator of economic development, said work is to begin next month with completion set for late fall.

Ground was broken on the project in August by top city and Hamilton County officials, but issues related to the site and a tax-increment financing (TIF) agreement held up full construction.

The $3.5-million project will be done by Highland Building Group, which is affiliated with Cameron Harbor developer Evergreen Real Estate of Nashville. Pinnacle Bank is providing the loan.

Earlier this year, the city approved an economic impact plan for the M.L. King Boulevard area and development of the TIF agreement with Evergreen.

It's only the second TIF the city has executed. The first was the done about six years ago related to the Black Creek development in Lookout Valley. Under a TIF, developers spend the money for a project up front, then are paid back with interest over a period out of additional tax revenues generated by development in the designated area.

Friday, IDB officials and others raised questions relating to the term of the 15-year TIF agreement for the project.

Helen Burns Sharp, founder of the citizens group Accountability for Taxpayer Money, said there appeared to be a difference in documents concerning the term. Also, she said, some of the developments on the parcels in the TIF are basically complete and it seemed that reappraisal of those properties should happen soon and there would be a new rate.

"When a TIF is in place property taxes are used to pay back the loan," she said. "Those properties are not paying fire and police and things like that. That's why it's of concern."

IDB members Ray Adkins and Skip Ireland each sought answers about the TIF documents, on which there is a 2036 end term, appearing longer than the 15 year period.

City Attorney Phil Noblett said there's a sliding scale related to full reappraisal of the properties because projects on the site, such as a restaurant, office building and apartments, are to be finished in different time frames.

"They're not all completed at one time," he said. After a reappraisal is done, then the county goes through its usual reassessment process, Noblett said.

Sam Hodges, an attorney for Pinnacle Bank, said the bank wanted a 2036 "hard date" so that there was an assurance the process would come to an end.

"The developer has said it may well happen a lot sooner, but that's something the bank can't control," he said.

City officials have said that taking M.L. King to the river fulfills a century-old dream by planners.

Legendary blues singer Bessie Smith grew up in the section of the city near the extension called Blue Goose Hollow, according to local officials and the Tennessee Encyclopedia.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.