* Where is it? The heart of midTown is along Brainerd Road and Lee Highway from Missionary Ridge to Highway 153
* What’s happened? Last year, midTownGrassroots was established as a nonprofit group to promote the area. The area Chamber of Commerce also has adopted the midTown name.
* What’s ahead? The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday approved new street banners highlighting the midTown name and third annual midTown Fall Festival is scheduled for Sept. 24 in the Brainerd Village Shopping Center.
Bite your tongue, if you say Brainerd. The Chattanooga neighborhood's preferred new name is "midTown."
At least, that's the hope of a group of residents, officials and business owners who want to rebrand Brainerd and revitalize it — especially along its main commercial strip from the Missionary Ridge Tunnel on Brainerd Road and Lee Highway all the way to Highway 153.
"It's already caught on," City Councilwoman Carol Berz said of the midTown moniker.
"The reason we came up with that is because it's midway between Enterprise South and downtown," said Berz, who for six years has represented the area that she would like to be formerly known as Brainerd.
Another reason is that Atlanta has a Midtown neighborhood that's a center of art and cultural activity.
"There's not particularly a stigma with Brainerd," Berz said. "When you want to redo an area, having grown up in Atlanta, a lot of areas around Piedmont Park that were kind of nowheresville are now branded Midtown."
The revitalization effort involves more than trying to get the new name to stick.
It includes the creation, a year ago, of Grassroots midTown, a nonprofit organization that was modeled after The River City Co., the 30-year-old nonprofit development company that helped shepherd downtown Chattanooga's renaissance. Its president and CEO is Kim White.
"Kim White's a good friend of mine; we went to her and said, OK, when you first started, how did you start?" Berz said. "That led to community meetings at which Berz asked constituents what they wanted.
"You know what, I'm a terrible politician, but I'm pretty good at community organization," Berz said. "So we had just numbers of focus groups to find out what people wanted — and what they wanted was to kind of turn the area around to its former grandeur."
Victoria Overholzer is the executive director and sole full-time employee of Grassroots midTown.
"One of the things we're rolling out is a workforce development program with Brainerd High School," Overholzer said.
Other efforts by Grassroots midTown include home-buying workshops and an upcoming third annual midTown Fall Festival that will be held on Sept. 24 in the Brainerd Village Shopping Center.
New zoning regulations
And there's what Berz called the "pilot mile" along Lee Highway from East Brainerd Road to Spring Creek Road where new zoning called the Brainerd Road Overlay Zone is meant to give the commercial strip a classier look, with such requirements as signage that's smaller than elsewhere on the busy corridor, green spaces and parking located behind storefronts.
"When Applebee's came in [there], one of the requirements is that they had to put in a sidewalk, and they said, 'Sure,'" Berz said. "Anybody that comes in has to do sidewalk in front of their property, because one of the things we don't have there is sidewalk."
Business leaders and owners of large properties are backing the midTown rebranding, including Bob McKamey, who recently invested $3.9 million to upgrade his Capital Toyota dealership on Lee Highway and Emerson Russell, the founder and CEO of ERMC, a 5,000-employee business that has its headquarters near Lee Highway.
Another supporter is Jimmy White, a real estate manager and developer who's the registered agent for Chattanooga-based OBC Properties, which last year bought from Henry Luken III a total of 17 properties in Osborne Office Park, a commercial real estate complex with two high-rises between Eastgate Center and Wal-Mart.
"The economic leaders of the area have really bought in and are also working hard," Berz said. "I've got to give credit to these guys who are the economic movers and shakers in the area."
'Rebranding doesn't happen overnight'
Bill Raines, of The Raines Group commercial real estate company, serves on the 14-member board of Grassroots midTown, along with Russell and White.
The Raines Group manages and leases Brainerd Park, a strip mall that includes Hibbett Sports, Murmaid Mattress and Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine, and a 65,000-square-foot business park near Sam's Club on Lee Highway.
"We're using [midTown] on our brochures," said Raines, a Chattanooga native.
Raines thinks midTown will catch on — eventually.
"Anytime you do rebranding, it doesn't happen overnight," he said, citing the example of the merger of Japanese carmakers.
"When Nissan bought Datsun, at first it was Datsun-Nissan. Then it became Nissan-Datsun. And then it became Nissan. [midTown's] the same. That's the process we have begun," he said.
The Chattanoooga City Council approved Tuesday a temporary permit for street-side midTown banners that should go up by the end of September, Overholzer said. The state's new family justice center near Eastgate will be called the midTown Center, Berz said. The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce has a midTown Council.
Adopting the midTown name doesn't mean that individual neighborhoods in the area have to give up their identity, Berz said.
"One of the things that we made very clear from the beginning — because I live there, too — is we want each of the neighborhoods to keep their integrity," she said. "Belvoir will still be called Belvoir. Brainerd Hills will still be called Brainerd Hills. Hilltop will still be called Hilltop."
The business district near the Missionary Ridge tunnel on Brainerd Road will still be called Olde Town.
Berz hopes that those who adopt midTown will stick with its idiosyncratic capitalization.
"You'll see it a number of ways, the original one was a small 'm', capital 'T'," Berz said. "I don't know that everybody is going to follow that. We hope they will."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.