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Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd/ The Tennessee Aquarium anchors the riverfront in this view looking north up Broad Street. Consultants hired to help study ways to re-energize the riverfront are closing in on recommendations.

Fully shutting down Riverfront Parkway to traffic appears off the table as planners envision ways to re-energize the waterfront district in downtown Chattanooga, officials said Tuesday.

But planners said they are looking at ways to cluster more businesses and spur street activity near the Tennessee River. Also, they want to make Ross's Landing Park more inviting by adding seating, shade trees and programming, and they see Broad Street becoming an improved corridor in the district.

Andrew Overbeck of the consulting firm MKSK, giving an update to the ONE Riverfront planning effort for the district, said at a virtual meeting that recommendations are expected in late spring or early summer.

Overbeck said he doesn't know of any plans to fully close Riverfront Parkway as it runs between the Tennessee Aquarium and the river. But, he said, consultants are looking at a suggestion to close the busy road more often on a temporary basis for events and other purposes to help people better connect to the park and water.

Jim Williamson of the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., which commissioned the study in late 2019, said that fully closing Riverfront Parkway is "not impossible, but it would be very difficult."

While there's a lot of truck traffic on the road, he said he's hopeful that issue can be addressed in other ways.

"We're working closely with local CDOT (the Chattanooga Department of Transportation) on that issue as well," Williamson said. "It's very much a concern."

But planners said they are zeroing in on a host of ways to bolster the waterfront district, bordered by the river, Fourth Street, Cameron Hill and the Bluff View Arts District.

Ideas include making the waterfront district more of a place for all Chattanoogans and not just somewhere attractive for tourists.

Planners cited improving park and public spaces, boosting the frequency of events and spurring "equitable development" by supporting small and minority-related businesses and lower-cost housing in the district.

To strengthen connections to and from the district and the rest of downtown, they're eyeing more accessibility by walking, biking and using transit, they said.

Planners said they aim to create diversity and density of uses to attract all Chattanoogans.

One concept is to cluster development along the riverfront and Broad Street, planners said. They compared a section of Main Street in the Southside, which has become crammed with restaurants and shops, to space along the waterfront where there are few businesses.

Also, while planners look at creating more activity on Broad, they see an environment that is low stress and almost like a linear park.

In addition, the planners said they're looking at sites in the district to place residences that would appeal at a variety of prices.

Concerning AT&T Field in the district, where the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team plays, Williamson said of a potential new stadium in the South Broad District that "we honestly don't know if or when they might move."

"We would most likely engage in a similar but more concentrated planning effort like this one if or when it happens," he wrote in response to a question.

A South Broad plan three years ago identified the Wheland/U.S. Pipe foundry site as a possible home for a multi-use entertainment venue that could include a minor league baseball stadium.

Then in late 2019, The New York Times identified the Lookouts as a potential casualty as Major League Baseball examined contraction of minor league teams, and it cited an aging AT&T Field.

Last month, the Lookouts announced that the team has accepted a new 10-year player development license to continue as the Class AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

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

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