Mayor Tim Kelly said Thursday he is optimistic Chattanooga can overcome some of its biggest challenges and become the best city in America.
Part of his optimism is based on the "One Chattanooga" plan his administration presented during the annual State of the City ceremony.
"The volume of challenges we face as a city is huge," Kelly said. "At the same time, I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the office at this time. We have this influx of federal dollars. We're actually in good fiscal shape, and so I really feel blessed to be here with this council."
The mayor's plan highlights seven priorities for the future — access to early learning, economic vitality for the Black community, affordable housing, improving infrastructure, making the city a competitive regional economy, improving public health and making government efficient and effective.
Various departments within the city are creating measurable indicators of success based on the plan, though Kelly hinted there would be more news coming to address affordable housing issues and homelessness in the city. The mayor also said the city will publish a paving schedule for which roads will be resurfaced as part of his $10 million a year repaving plan.
The annual ceremony took a different format this year, with Greg Funderburg, co-anchor and reporter for WTVC News Channel 9, interviewing Kelly on stage at the Tivoli Theatre to discuss the plan.
Members of Kelly's administration — Joda Thongnopnua, chief of staff in the mayor's office, and Jermaine Freeman, senior adviser to the mayor on economic opportunity — discussed the plan on stage, and Ben McAdams — who has served as a Utah lawmaker, mayor of Salt Lake County and member of Congress — gave a speech about better using city-owned property to generate revenue.
Thongnopnua said the One Chattanooga plan was created over months of listening to community members and leaders.
"Over a year of campaigning, plus a year in office, we do have a sense of what this community is facing in terms of its challenges and also what the path forward is," Thongnopnua said. "It's really exciting."
Thongnopnua said an important first step was to name the problems facing the city, particularly around Chattanooga's revitalization decades ago.
"I think [the plan] acknowledges, bluntly, an aspirational objective but also the reality that we are not currently living in One Chattanooga. We currently have two fundamentally different lived experiences in our community," he said.
Some of the pieces that will play key roles in achieving Kelly's broad goals are already in place.
In March, Kelly announced plans for a $100 million affordable housing initiative over five years, which includes $33 million in seed money from the city. The project will involve public-private partnerships with nonprofit organizations, banks and other groups to expand the offerings of affordable housing.
"What we're doing is working on building a model that will attract not only public but philanthropic and private capital to unlock all of this," Kelly said. "And work with the market. I mean, government can't solve this on its own, by a long shot."
Kelly's infrastructure plan also looks to emphasize the area's natural attractions, promoting green space and access to nature.
"Our green spaces really are the thing that we have other cities around the country, around the world, are very jealous of, and for good reason," Kelly said. "So, that's what we really need to emphasize. That's what we need to push forward. And that's what we will do."