A cross-state-line cleanup Saturday in Rossville was the culmination of two communities coming together with a shared interest in revitalizing the Rossville Boulevard corridor.
Heather Herweyer is a project director for The BLVD, an organization working to make the area thrive through improvements to safety, transportation, aesthetics and establishing a business association. The group focuses on the part of Chattanooga along Rossville Boulevard from the Interstate 24 overpass to the state line.
'We feel like the state line should be an exciting place. I feel really proud of Chattanooga, but when you cross into Tennessee from Georgia, you're just greeted by boarded-up buildings, and it just feels really depressing," Herweyer said in a phone interview. "I feel like Rossville could be a cheerleader, like 'Oh, you're about to encounter all these exciting things.'"
Because the two communities have the same goal and are very connected, Herweyer was approached by representatives of the Rossville Downtown Development Authority to partner on projects. The cleanup was the first joint event, Herweyer said.
Twenty-two people showed up to help pick up 15 square yards of trash, spread 150 bags of mulch, plant a tree and replace "a few graffiti spots with some funky artwork," Herweyer said.
A resident of Chattanooga's East Lake neighborhood, Herweyer said her organization has become an advocate for its community, spurring the city to better its neighborhood. The Chattanooga City Council passed a plan for the area in 2004, but not much of it was acted upon, she said. Results from both sides of the state line have been coming recently, Herweyer said, like new lampposts, branded banners, better sidewalks, art and other infrastructure.
Her personal inspiration was meeting her neighbors and raising children in the area. Just because people are lower-income doesn't mean they can't have a strong neighborhood with amenities, she said.
On the Georgia side, Rossville Mayor Ted Harris said it's an exciting time for his city.
"We're gearing up for major things to start happening," Harris said in a phone interview.
Four or five years ago, leaders rezoned the entire city, with extra provisions in the downtown area to shape what kind of businesses can operate there. New convenience stores, tattoo parlors, car lots and pawn shops aren't allowed, he said.
The city also made a streetscape plan for McFarland Avenue and improved the area around the John Ross House, the home of the long-serving leader of the Cherokee Nation, built around 1797. The city took down a barbed-wire-topped fence, removed a road running through the ponds on the property and connected the historic home to the rest of the town.
"We've made that whole area more accessible to the public so they can see the John Ross House and learn the history of the John Ross House," Harris said. "And it's more inviting than what it used to be. Before it was like Fort Knox or something."
On June 11, the city is hosting a fishing rodeo for kids.
"I'm looking forward to that," Harris said.
When asked if there were more new businesses coming to the area, Harris said, "We've got a lot percolating," adding it was too early to give specifics.
He said the downtown development authority would have more information but attempts to reach the authority for comment were unsuccessful.
Christopher Wood is a co-owner of Be Caffeinated, a coffee shop based in Chattanooga. The business is opening its third location in Rossville at the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and McFarland Avenue, near Roy's Grill. He said he plans to open the location in eight to 12 months. It will feature a drive-through with patio seating, just like the location in Red Bank.
"The revitalization thing is the real deal, they're trying to get a lot of cool stuff into Rossville," Wood said in a phone interview.
Wood said he wants to partner with cooperative communities, rather than "just go wherever."
He was approached by the development authority because the city wanted a coffee shop and sought proposals from several local coffee shops.
Representatives from the development authority have been helpful in answering questions about the process of opening in Rossville, he said, including being at the City Council meeting when he applied for a zoning variance for the coffee shop. At the council meeting, representatives from the city's development agency also explained the business's request to the city.
"I see a lot of potential there," Wood said. "The people are really great. Flora de Mel recently opened, and they're doing awesome stuff," Wood said. "Obviously, the traffic count's awesome, that's really enticing for the drive-through side of things. But we also really enjoy getting involved in smaller communities, that's why we started in Red Bank."
Flora de Mel is a year-old restaurant that makes mead — alcohol made from honey.
Herweyer said some of her neighbors have fond memories of Rossville Boulevard, buying prom dresses there, or going out for a coffee or ice cream. Some of her forward-thinking neighbors have bought up buildings and have big plans for them. Like a lot of neighborhoods, she said home prices have doubled in the past few years.
"We've got good public and private investment, so this cleanup day is just another thing contributing to the momentum we have down there," she said.
Even with all the recent progress and amenities, the area is kind of undiscovered, Herweyer said. Within a quarter-mile of the state line, there's a post office, grocery store, drug store, park with a pond and a bank. A few nice restaurants are just a little further away, she said.
It isn't all coming easy, she said. Because traffic lights are a quarter-mile apart on Rossville Boulevard, the organization wanted to install a crosswalk. That plan has been slowed because it's a state highway — with different standards. Herweyer said she still hopes a protected median can be installed because there have been pedestrian and cyclist deaths nearby.
Momentum is building, Herweyer said, and a next big step is a First Friday open-air market planned for June, July and August. Hopefully, there will be a lot of public support for these events, and that will lead to more regular events, she said.
"We really love our community and feel like we have a lot of assets, but feel like no one in Chattanooga was really talking about how to improve the Rossville corridor or much about how to improve the adjoining neighborhoods," Herweyer said. "And it's just kind of evolved."
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