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Responding to citizen input from the ongoing study to re-energize Chattanooga's waterfront, Riverfront Parkway will close for the next four Sundays in front of the Tennessee Aquarium.

"We heard this point from community members with children that Riverfront Parkway is intimidating," said Amy Donahue of the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., which commissioned the waterfront planning effort late last year.

The road will close from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. each Sunday through Nov. 8, weather permitting, from Power Alley to East Aquarium Way near the Edwin Hotel, she said.

The aim is to enable families to better utilize the Ross's Landing area without having to worry about traffic, Donahue said, noting that road closing permits were obtained from the city.

"It's an opportunity for people to have more room to safely spread out and enjoy the riverfront," she said.

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ The Tennessee Aquarium anchors Chattanooga's downtown riverfront in this view looking north up Broad Street from a parking garage between Broad and Chestnut streets.

Donahue said the work on the waterfront plan, which is expected to have initial findings and recommendations early next year, has shown that people aren't comfortable with Riverfront Parkway as it is now.

"We're hearing over and over again, whether it's downtown stakeholders or people who may not visit that often, that there's this predominant theme," she said.

Donahue termed the temporary closing over the next month "a test."

"Does the community like this? Is it beneficial?" she asked. "We don't know what the study will recommend. They're not done listening."

The planning process will chart the future of the district bordered by the Tennessee River, Fourth Street, Cameron Hill and the Bluff View Arts District.

A plan was to be ready by last July 4, but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the timeline.

The future of Riverfront Parkway, the aquarium's connection to the river, AT&T Field, and ways to make Fourth, Broad and Market streets more people and business friendly were to undergo study by planners.

Darren Meyer, principal at the Ohio firm MKSK that's conducting the study, said the company does a lot of work with cities returning to their riverfronts. What's unusual in this instance is that Chattanooga was a pioneer in doing so, and now it wants to take another look with fresh eyes, he said.

Called One Riverfront Chattanooga, the plan's primary focus is to help build a district "that's for people and particularly Chattanoogans," Meyer said. "If you make it walkable, livable, comfortable that's the rising tide that raises all ships."

Donahue said the pandemic extended the amount of time MKSK can get feedback from citizens.

Another way planners will gain input is through a non-contact outdoor scavenger hunt that's underway, she said.

Starting at the Starbucks cafe on Broad Street at The Block, people can scan a QR code on their cell phones to begin, she said. To get their next clue, players must answer a quick question related to the waterfront. There are 10 stops all within the waterfront area, Donahue said. Paper copies of the scavenger hunt also are available inside the Starbucks, she said.

"It's to get people to give us information about the waterfront," Donahue said. " What's working well on the riverfront? What would they like to see?" The scavenger hunt is in place until Nov. 15, she said.

Concerning the Sunday closings of Riverfront Parkway, Donahue said there won't be any vendors or live music due to the coronavirus. But plans are to place temporary seating and umbrellas, she said.

The nearby 200 block of Broad Street has been shut down on weekends since Labor Day to enable pedestrians, restaurants and retailers to spill out into the street, Donahue said.

"It's been very successful," she said, adding the Broad Street closure will continue through Nov. 1.

For Riverfront Parkway, Donahue said detours will be posted for vehicle traffic. Sundays were picked for the closings to not impact most deliveries or truck traffic involving nearby businesses, she said.

At a meeting in January shortly after the planning effort started, drawing more than 200 people to offer ideas to revive the waterfront, curbing traffic on Riverfront Parkway was raised.

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

"It has an awful lot of trucks," he said.

Riverfront Parkway was built more than a half-century ago as a four-lane, limited-access highway in large part to move industrial truck traffic. But as traffic volume dropped, a debate ensued about the use of the space.

With the emergence of the $120 million 21st Century Waterfront Plan in 2005 by former Mayor Bob Corker, the road near the aquarium was narrowed and it became a more pedestrian-friendly, two-lane boulevard.

Still, when the aquarium opened in 1992, builders included a break in a wall near Riverfront Parkway, which was seen by some as representing an effort by Chattanooga to eventually fully return to the river.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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