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Renovations continue at Miller Park on Thursday, July 27, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The multi-million dollar renovation project is expected to be completed in July of 2018.

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River City seeks donations for Miller Park makeover

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The recently churned ground of Miller Park marks the first step in Chattanooga's new vision for the 40-year-old landmark and nearby streetscapes.

The $14 million, multiphase renovation will re-create Miller Park as a wide open, street-level green space and establish pedestrian-friendly connections between the park, Miller Plaza and Patten Parkway.

Mayor Andy Berke calls the project a "once-in-a-generation investment" in the city's future that needs the collaborative commitment of public and private dollars.

To that end, Chattanooga has placed River City Co., a private, nonprofit economic development organization, in charge of collecting $7.5 million in donations for the overall project.

"Our goal is to meet with all major property owners and stakeholders and those groups/individuals that have invested in projects in our city for the past 30 years," Kim White, River City's CEO, said in an email.

The Miller Park remake places a rocky outcropping at the corner of M.L. King Boulevard and Georgia Avenue, a multi-use amphitheater near East 10th Street and a garden path along its Market Street side. Asphalt on M.L. King Boulevard will be replaced with with interlocking pedestrian pavers between the park and Miller Plaza.

The $10.3 million project is funded with $4.2 million from the city and private pledges of $3.7 million, White said. River City needs to raise $2.4 million to bridge the gap.

The Patten Parkway portion of the project, estimated to cost $3.5 million, will mostly involve private funds, city spokeswoman Marissa Bell said in an email.

Plans call for leveling the parkway's median with the street elevation and incorporate an existing tree and World War II monument with a new central terrace that can provide flexible seating and market space.

White said River City has met with more than 20 "downtown stakeholders" about helping fund the work and has more such meetings scheduled.

"This project certainly intersects with our goal of supporting shared public space," Macon Toledano, associate director of the Lyndhurst Foundation, said in a recent phone interview.

The foundation has committed $500,000 to renewing the park, he said.

In June, the Chattanooga City Council accepted a $1.5 million donation from the Benwood Foundation for Miller Park and Patten Parkway improvements. The foundation pitched in $200,000 toward the design cost, as well.

Jeff Pfitzer, Benwood's program officer, said in an email the organization supports the Miller Park area makeover because it plays a key role in 2013 City Center Plan, which envisions "a high quality network of downtown public spaces to support new development, and to enable a more active cultural and social scene in the heart of our city."

The Miller District makeover coincides with other foundation efforts linked to the M.L. King commercial corridor, the Innovation District and the redevelopment of the Tomorrow Building, Pfitzer said.

EPB has offered $2 million through a mix of in-kind and financial support, Hodgen Mainda, vice president of community development for EPB, said in an email. In return, EPB will receive exclusive and perpetual naming rights for the park's amphitheater, along with signage and other marketing considerations.

The park renovation can enhance Chattanooga's Central Business District and create "an incredible recreational asset for all to enjoy," Mainda said.

"EPB has a mission of enhancing the quality of life and local economy for our customers, so the Miller Park project is a smart way to support growth while playing a pivotal role in effecting positive change in the area immediately surrounding EPB's main office," he said.

City officials initially expected the revamped Miller Park would open in spring 2017, but the unveiling is now scheduled for July 2018.

The project design has gone back to the drawing board a couple of times. The first time happened when stakeholder feedback called for scrapping a proposed cafe pavilion, Berke said during tour of Miller Park last October. The rocky outcropping replaced the cafe pavilion as a part of the process, he said.

When bids came in higher than expected, the design was revised to align with the budget, Bell said.

The price tag is about $2 million higher, too.

Last fall, Berke also said the estimated Miller Park makeover cost came to $8.1 million, only leaving a $530,000 shortfall between private and public commitments made at the time.

None of that really worries White.

"After raising $65 million for projects like the 21st Century Waterfront, or raising the funds for the aquarium, the $2.4 million certainly isn't the largest undertaking the City and partners have undertaken," White said in her email.

"We know that the Miller Park District redevelopment will be transformational as the other funded projects have been in the revitalization of our downtown."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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