Rossville, which has about 4,000 residents, suffers from border town syndrome, a place where people pass through to get to other places but don't stop, said Elizabeth Wells, Rossville ReDev Workshop co-founder.
But progress is being made — and more is on the way.
To understand and combat the problem more deeply, the city is launching a Downtown Development Authority to explore new ways to grow the city and engage community members. The development authority will comprise business owners, volunteers, Realtors and organization leaders who, Wells said, are fully vested in the interests of growing the city.
"We know we have a lot of challenges but we're trying our best, utilizing professionals who know how to do this well," she said. "It's an inspiring time we're in right now."
Earlier this month, the city received a $20,000 grant from the American Water Charitable Foundation's Keep Communities Flowing program to begin phase two of construction at John Ross Commons. The first phase, completed in late 2017, saw the rehabilitation of the area surrounding the historic John Ross home, which sits at the gateway to the city.
Outfitted with new sidewalks, benches and a large, lighted fountain in the pond, the park was planned to host movie showings, concerts and other events.
The new development authority will lead phase two along with community members. Wells said the team will use the $20,000 grant to create an urban orchard, a community garden and, eventually, an outdoor classroom for Walker County schools.
The authority has already started working with local artists and students at Covenant College on a project to line the downtown corridor with banners welcoming people to the city. Unlike when motorists are traveling north into Chattanooga, there is no sign notifying travelers they've entered Georgia.
The project, said Wells, will include city-wide voting on what murals and artwork should be included.
"This public art statement will show that Rossville has changed over the years," she said.
The authority will also be working with the owners of the old Peerless Woolen Mills, which was bought by a developer in 2017 and is envisioned to be an epicenter of new business. Already, plans are in the works to turn the mill into a mixed-use facility with office space, restaurants and artist studios.
"Instead of treating the mill like a liability, the owners are actually working on it with the city," Wells said.
Last year, the city began working with Georgia Tech's Economic Development Research Program to create a strategic priorities assessment, which found that attention to attracting private investment and fixing aging infrastructure could be key to making a name for Rossville.
With the assessment now in its final draft stages, Wells plans to work with the authority as well as various nonprofits and groups throughout the area to fund more grants and projects, but is hopeful community community members will get involved, too.
"This is the time to get involved on the ground level," she said. "It doesn't get better overnight."
The authority, headed by Executive Director Susan Wells, will meet monthly beginning later this year, after completing training sessions.
"We are incredibly excited about our future and the dynamic momentum of our present," Susan Wells said of the prospect to develop several parcels of land the city owns.
Residents interested in getting involved in community projects can reach out to Rossville ReDev Workshop on Facebook.
Email Sabrina Bodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.