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Rebecca Lassman, left, of HR&A Advisors, left, directs people offering ideas for the waterfront district as more than 200 people attended a Riverfront visioning public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, to look over a maps of the riverfront at the Tennessee Aquarium. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

The future of Chattanooga's riverfront, where downtown's revival began three decades ago, drew more than 200 people to a meeting Wednesday as many of them offered up ideas for a new vision for the area.

More retail, curbing traffic on Riverfront Parkway, somehow bridging the barrier of Fourth Street, and making parking easier — or even free — were among the array of notions raised for waterfront planners.

Called One Riverfront Chattanooga, the new plan to be finished this summer is aimed at finding more ways to boost activity in the area, especially for locals, according to River City Co., the nonprofit, downtown redevelopment group that commissioned the study.

"How can we raise our game?" asked River City CEO Kim White. "We want the riverfront to attract Chattanoogans."

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Darren Meyer, standing left, principal in charge for MKSK Urban Design, begins his presentation about One Riverfront Chattanooga on Wednesday evening, Jan. 29, 2020, at a public meeting inside the Tennessee Aquarium. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Jim Wildeman of Chattanooga said he was at the visioning meeting because of Riverfront Parkway.

"It has an awful lot of trucks," he said, adding he's not sure if there are alternatives for the traffic which would make the road more pedestrian friendly.

Michael Brady, who lives in the district, said he'd like to see retailers such as Mast General Store or a small grocery store.

"There have been a lot of good things. I'd like to keep that going," he said at the meeting at the Tennessee Aquarium, the 1992 opening of which is seen as sparking downtown's renaissance.

Roy Gress, who's moving from Orlando to Chattanooga with wife Jacqui, said they're curious of potential changes in the riverfront district that's undergoing study — an area bordered by the Tennessee River, Cameron Hill, Bluff View and Fourth Street.

"Parking is a challenge," he said, saying he'd like to see an open-air trolley carry people around downtown in addition to the electric buses.

Helen Burns Sharp, founder of citizens watchdog group Accountability for Taxpayer Money, said in an email that the riverfront needs "a retail game-changer" such as a Trader Joe's market or Mast General.

Sharp also cited a need for more transparency about an idea to move the current Chattanooga Lookouts home to the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland foundry site. A South Broad District study had earlier included such a multi-use entertainment site among a variety of new development on that tract.

"While this is not inherently a bad idea, it raises several public policy questions that need to be discussed in the sunshine," she said, such as the possibility of tax-increment financing.

According to the planning firm MKSK, hired to conduct the planning process, they want to learn strengths, weaknesses and priorities for change in the area.

The firm said the district isn't starting from scratch, noting it draws about 1.6 million visitors annually and there is about $220 million in recent and proposed development.

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Rebecca Lassman, left, of HR&A Advisors, left, directs people offering ideas for the waterfront district as more than 200 people attended a Riverfront visioning public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, to look over a maps of the riverfront at the Tennessee Aquarium. / Staff photo by Tim Barber

Brought on board late last year, the firm said early talks with people here show an interest in increased activity in the riverfront, better connectivity with the rest of downtown, creating an enhanced sense of place, spurring "catalytic development," and making it a place for all Chattanoogans.

White said that while the riverfront is special, it's far from complete.

"It's time to uncover what the next steps for our riverfront are and how, as a community, we can make those a reality," she said.

White, citing the loss of energy at the riverfront while other parts of downtown are flourishing, said parking revenues are down 20% in the waterfront district, for example.

"It should be an area that is used by locals just as much as those visiting our community," she said.

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

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