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Graphic of the new plan for the downtown district from River City Company.
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John Petrey raises his hand to ask a question about attracting new retail downtown Wednesday on the third day of a gathering held to map out design and street plans for Chattanooga's downtown city core at Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

If it's up to River City Co., downtown Chattanooga will look drastically different in 20 years.

Broad Street could be narrowed from six lanes of traffic to four, with on-street parking and a separated bike lane.

The Mountain City Club on Chestnut Street could be turned into a public park surrounded by high-end housing.

Miller Park could be drastically redesigned and connected to Miller Plaza.

The Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union building on Market Street could be rebuilt as a parking structure.

The now-vacant 700 block of Market Street could hold a six-story building with 60 units of housing and 30 parking spaces.

The ideas go on and on and on.

River City Co. unveiled an ambitious -- but tentative -- plan for the section of downtown Chattanooga called "city center" Wednesday night.

The city center district spans the area between Fourth and 12th streets, from U.S. Highway 27 to Georgia Avenue.

The unveiling was the culmination of weeks of behind-the-scenes meetings, a public brainstorming session Monday night and two days of concentrated work by urban designers.

The plan focuses on increasing both housing and parking, proposing three new parking garages along Broad Street on lots that are currently either buildings or surface parking lots and a slew of new apartment and condo space.

The idea is to create a dense and livable downtown, said Christian Rushing, a partner at Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson who collaborated on the project.

He said he thinks the plan is 100 percent realistic.

"If you look at what Chattanooga did in a 20-year time frame, from 1982 to 2002, we were able to turn a city around," he said. "When you consider that we had had 20 years to do that -- this almost seems too easy."

Wednesday's plan focused intensely on a handful of areas in the city center district. The plan calls for a redesign of Miller Park that would raise the ground four feet, add a 160-foot long lawn, keep the fountain but make it interactive and add a seven-story housing and retail building on the south end of the lot as an anchor.

That proposal would complement and connect to a reinvented Patten Parkway, which would include fountains, greenspace and a new parking garage.

Another focus of the tentative plan was Broad Street, which planners said should be narrowed and made more pedestrian-friendly. There's plenty of room to make the reduction, according to River City. Broad Street currently carries about 7,900 cars per day but has the capacity to carry 36,000 cars.

Under the new plan, most of downtown's one-way streets would transform to carry two-way traffic, and Eighth Street would become a major corridor lined with trees and greenery to help connect UTC to downtown.

Planners envisioned the former headquarters of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee -- known as the Gold Building -- anchoring one end of Eighth street as an upscale hotel. That hotel would overlook the proposed park on Chestnut Street, which would be surrounded by a mixed-use parking and housing structure.

Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., said Wednesday's plan is a starting point. She added that while River City is spearheading the effort, actually funding and building the infrastructure will be a citywide effort.

"It will take community participation, city participation and help from downtown stakeholders and property owners," she said.

And while some of the about 150 people who attended Wednesday's unveil were skeptical, many were optimistic.

"I think in Chattanooga there's a very good chance the vision will be realized," said attendee Jim Bowen. "We've done it many times."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or at