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Staff photo by Carmen Nesbitt / The heart of Chattanooga's tourism district is seen May 29, the morning after it was rocked by a shooting that injured six teens.

On May 27, Chattanooga made national business headlines, lauded as a tech and venture capital hub in The Wall Street Journal.

The next night, the city again made the national spotlight following a shooting downtown that injured six teens.

Since then, select members of the local business community have expressed general concerns with the gun violence taking place in a high tourist area.

The Chattanooga Tourism Co. said it doesn't expect the shooting to affect summer tourism significantly but that there is always a possibility of visitors thinking Chattanooga isn't safe.

"We do not anticipate this incident to have a measurable impact on summer travel in Chattanooga. It is, however, always a possibility," the company said in an emailed statement. "Visitors and residents expect clean and safe spaces in destinations where they live and visit. 'Clean' and 'safe' are often taken for granted, but they are fragile attributes. Even the perception of a place not being clean or safe can negatively impact the comfort level of residents and visitors."

(READ MORE: Gun violence questions swirl as Chattanooga comes to grips with Saturday's shooting)

One 15-year-old male has been arrested in connection with the shootings, and the investigation continues. Some organizations have made adjustments to downtown events, while others have assured ample security.

Friends of the Festival Executive Director Mickey McCamish addressed concerns ahead of this weekend's Riverbend Festival, noting that attendees would be well protected by security personnel and local police officers. And the River City Co., a Chattanooga nonprofit dedicated to economic development, had plans to still hold its usual Music & Movies event in Miller Park on Saturday night with increased security.

"River City Co. is one of many organizations ... dedicated to hosting safe and welcoming events for families, residents and visitors in our downtown," President and CEO Emily Mack said in an emailed statement. "This has been and always will be a top priority."

PROMPT RESPONSE

Local public interest advocate Helen Burns Sharp lives in the condos located adjacent to Cherry Street, where the shooting happened, near the Walnut Street Bridge. To her, it's an unfortunate sign of the state of today's society.

"I think one of the things we're learning in this country is that these sorts of things happen everywhere," she said. "The whole episode is just sort of a sad commentary about, you know, I believe the issue we have with the guns in our country and also, particularly the idea that young people, 15 years old, have this kind of access to guns."

The Gun Violence Archive said the Chattanooga shooting on May 29 was one of at least 14 mass shootings in which four or more victims were shot or killed across the country over the Memorial Day weekend and among more than 200 such mass shootings so far in 2022 across the country.

(READ MORE: 'They are just children': Chattanooga Uber driver describes helping teens during Saturday's shooting)

Burns, a Chattanooga native and retired city planning director, said she doesn't feel any less safe in downtown Chattanooga than before and she doesn't think the shooting would significantly affect development or tourism in the area.

In her opinion, the police response was prompt, and the location of the incident carries little implication for the safety of the area for the average visitor or resident. She said she made a point to walk down and support a local business downtown the day following the shooting.

"I think people perhaps would be a little more leery about being out at, you know, 10:30 or 11 on a Saturday night in the summertime, which honestly, the whole time I lived here that if this is going to happen, this is when it happens," she said. "Is that unique to Chattanooga? I don't think so.

"In my view, this is the best place to live in Chattanooga," she said. "I thought that a week ago, and I think that today. What happened here did not change that perspective."

Keeli Crewe, owner of the Area 61 Gallery on Broad Street and a board member of the Downtown Chattanooga Alliance, also said she feels safe working, shopping and living downtown.

"You always need to be aware of your surroundings, and it's unfortunate that these juveniles had and used these guns in this tragic incident," Crewe said. "I think our police department responded well, and I still feel very safe walking around downtown Chattanooga, and most people I know do, too. I think our downtown is continuing to get better, and that's why it is so attractive to so many people."

But shootings certainly can hurt a business, as Southside Social saw in the past when gunfire took both lives and profits from the restaurant and bar.

(READ MORE: Lasting effects: Communities and businesses grapple with the long-term consequences of gun violence.)

A 2019 project by the Times Free Press investigating the effects of shootings in the Chattanooga community noted that when a bullet hits a body, the long-term effects on a community are more abstract and difficult to measure than the physical and emotional harm it causes for victims.

After a 2018 shooting in Southside, developer John Wise began to close his bar, Southside Social, at midnight instead of 2 a.m. at the recommendation of the Chattanooga Police Department. He said in an interview at the time that it led to a 25% reduction in business six months after the incident.

City Councilman Darrin Ledford, who represents the East Brainerd area, said shootings are regrettably happening in crowds from downtown to Hamilton Place mall. But Ledford said he doesn't expect last week's shooting near the riverfront attractions of Chattanooga will have a lasting negative effect on the city.

"I think what it does is to spur us to start looking at the components that make our curfew laws successful," he said.

Contact Tierra Hayes at thayes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6693. Follow her on Twitter @TierraBHayes.

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