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This rendering shows an overall site plan for the Commons.
As a citizen who's lived here for 32 years and as a business owner who has endeavors here in the city, this is a powerful way to further knit our community together.

The Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation is moving forward with the Collegedale Commons, an addition that could transform the surrounding community in the next five years.

The Commons, which will be a "cultural and recreational center" for the area, is being planned and developed by the nonprofit foundation that works to improve community well-being.

The area will include two open-air markets, a sound stage for the East Tennessee Symphony Orchestra, a clock tower, lots of green space and an event hall with, potentially, a new library.

"We're creating a center for the town but also creating a center for all of East Hamilton County where you can really live, work and play," said David Barto, executive director of the foundation. "A major part of the mission of the Commons is to bring people together."

The five-phase, approximately $15 million project is expected to be finished by 2021 and span eight acres, according to Barto. Phase one, which includes site work and the first market area, will cost $3.7 million.

"The reason phase one is so expensive is because we have to do all the site work on the front end: parking, all the underground utilities [and] all the drainage," Barto said. "The problem has been that it is not very exciting to invest in dirt."

The project is being funded with private donations. The foundation has been taking pledges and donations, as well as selling trees and bricks to be engraved and placed in the Commons area.

The CTF has raised about $1.2 million in donations or pledges to come in within the next two months, and 22 trees have been sold, according to Barto. An anonymous donor has offered to give $1.5 million, and the city of Collegedale has agreed to put up $300,000. The city will own the buildings and property.

However, Barto said most of the public money for the project comes from state and federal grants and is "being kept to an absolute minimum."

Barto and a small group recently completed a "Commons to the Hill" walk to Nashville in hopes Gov. Bill Haslam would consider investing in the project. The group did not meet with him, but Barto said the locals have received follow-ups about potential meetings.

"A nonprofit like this can develop park land and projects like this for the city in a more reasonable way," Barto said. "By having the Foundation, it allows major stakeholders to have a voice in the direction you're going."

The idea for the Commons was several years in the making, said Franklin Farrow, co-founder of Morning Pointe senior living and a Collegedale resident.

"We've been building pieces of this vision long before it became Collegedale Commons, like the original greenway, then the veterans park, and then Greenbriar Cove retirement community," he said. "As a citizen who's lived here for 32 years and as a business owner who has endeavors here in the city, this is a powerful way to further knit our community together."

Since April, the future home of the Commons has held a temporary market, which is open to the public from 4-7 p.m. on Wednesdays. Eventually, Barto hopes the market will have about 60,000 square feet and relieve some of the pressure on the Chattanooga Market.

With some 200 vendors and nearly 20,000 consumers packing the Chattanooga Market each Sunday, "they're being crushed by their own success," said Barto, who sits on the board of directors for the downtown market.

The Chattanooga Market will operate the Commons market and some vendors will rotate between the two on a weekly basis. Visitors will have better access to both locations, especially as more parking space opens up.

Kelly Martin, Collegedale's planning and economic director, said the Commons not only will open more business space, it also will feature lots of valuable green space.

"We're lucky to have a lot of protected green space in this area, and we want this to be our Central Park, scaled down, of course, for Collegedale," he said. "I definitely see it being a part of the greater whole, and a very important part whose role I think will grow over the years as the Commons builds on out."

Building out is expected to be expansive, Barto said, as the CTF is planning to connect the Commons with the rest of the community via greenways.

Meanwhile, Barto hopes to see the area bustling in the next five years.

"I see the Wednesday night market with over 200 vendors, the possibility of a new library for this entire region, [symphony] music, green space filled up with kids, theater in the park going and all the while there's a wedding on the second floor of the event hall," he said.

"We'd like to get sidewalks and greenways connected and basically have a completely planned, walkable community. I see it as a real center for the entire Ooltewah-Apison-Collegedale area."

Contact staff writer Kim Sebring at 423-757-6322 or at ksebring@timesfreepress.com.

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