1. I75/I24 interchange modification
Just before Christmas 2018, the Tennessee Department of Transportation awarded the contract for the I75/I24 interchange modification design-build project. The split, near the Tennessee-Georgia line, sees many crashes, semitractor-trailer rollovers and traffic slowdowns due to the short merging distances between the Ringgold Road interchange and the I-24 interchange.
The planned design consists of widening the existing roads and ramps, reconfiguring I-24 ramps to enter and exit I-75 from the right side, shifting the interchange to the west, and modifying the Welcome Center area traffic circulation.
Construction is slated to begin in late fall 2019, following geotechnical improvements to the project area, and to wrap up in less than three years.
While ongoing, the work will likely cause bigger headaches for the commuters who use the interchange daily. The project includes the area between the Georgia state line and west of the East Brainerd Road interchange on I-75 and between Spring Creek Road and the I-75/I-24 interchange on I-24.
2. Giraffes at the Chattanooga Zoo
The long-awaited giraffe exhibit is planned to open at the Chattanooga Zoo in late 2019. The zoo held a fundraising campaign in 2015 with hopes of adding this and a lion exhibit.
The giraffe exhibit will be part of the biggest expansion in the zoo's more than 80-year history. The expansion could take up nearly half of the zoo's 14 acres, according to original blueprints of the two new exhibits.
Work on the vast addition began in late March. The first phase includes a guest-friendly barn and approximately 4,000 square feet of outdoor lawn for the animals. The barn will include stalls to house the giraffe and other species as needed. It will also include behind-the-scenes tours, an indoor day yard, a catwalk for daily animal care, and built-in veterinary equipment.
The lawn will be placed alongside the giraffe barn and include an African savanna-inspired habitat.
There is no word yet on the number of giraffes expected to be included, but the facility will acquire the "appropriate number" through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival plan once construction is completed.
Mark Pace, staff writer
3. Commuter electric scooters downtown
Two electric scooter companies have been issued business licenses from the city of Chattanooga and could begin renting out the dockless vehicles immediately, though the city council is still working through the operating details. Both companies, Lime and Bird, already operate in other cities around the world, seeking to offer tourists and residents a more affordable, environmentally friendly form of transportation
While Lime representatives could not give an exact date for when the company plans to fully launch in Chattanooga, it is expected by summer 2019, said Sam Sadle, Lime's director of government relations and strategic development for Chattanooga.
To use a Lime scooter, riders download a phone app and fill in their credit card information. The scooters cost $1 to unlock and are 15 cents per minute after that, with 30 minutes costing just under $5. Sadle said there's a 50 percent cost reduction for people on state and federal subsidies in order to make the scooters affordable for everyone.
When fully charged, the GPS-enabled scooters can travel up to 33 miles. When a rider is done, they set the scooter in a safe place out of the way of cars and people and take a picture of it for the next rider to find on a map and/or for the company to make sure that the scooter was left in a safe place. For people without a smartphone, there is a "text-to-unlock" feature. Also, riders can choose to pay with cash by going to a PayNearMe location.
Electric scooters have caused problems across the country — from dumped and junked vehicles, riders speeding along on sidewalks instead of streets, and an increase in accidents and injuries. The city has proposed some rules, which include permit requirements, defined service areas, "robust" education for riders about safety and traffic rules, and other regulations, along with a $110-per-scooter annual fee, but those talks were ongoing as of press time.
Allison Shirk Collins, staff writer
4. Plans for a new baseball stadium
In summer 2018, the owners of the former Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe site off South Broad Street started seeking proposals from master developers for the 141-acre tract. Mike Mallen, one of the foundry tract's owners, said at that time that he didn't know when a master developer might be selected, but expectations are that some movement will happen before 2019 comes to a close.
The move followed the February 2018 release of the South Broad District plan, which suggests a multi-use sports and entertainment facility for the former foundry parcel. At the request of the city, the nonprofit Chattanooga Design Studio undertook a public visioning process to draft the plan, which foresees an array of new housing along with commercial and retail space, upgraded parks, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, including the new minor league ballpark and entertainment site to serve as a catalyst for development in the area.
Jason Freier, the Lookouts' operating partner, has expressed interest in working with the developers, saying the existing AT&T Field near Chattanooga's riverfront where the Lookouts have played for nearly 20 years was not designed to last and has its challenges, such as how it's oriented toward the sun. He also said AT&T Field has limited use after the baseball season is over. The stadium in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Freier has helped to build a minor league team, is used about every day of the year hosting other sports, concerts and events, he said.
Mike Pare, staff writer
5. The new Medal of Honor Museum
Following years of fundraising efforts, construction began in January for the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. To be housed in the old visitor center in Aquarium Plaza, the center is expected to open in February 2020.
The 19,000-square-foot, $6 million facility will honor the 3,522 recipients of the nation's highest award for individual valor in the military, with a specific interest in the 32 Medal of Honor recipients from Tennessee. The first 52 medals awarded by the United States were earned in the Civil War's Chattanooga campaign from 1862-1864.
The museum will feature exhibits from seven American conflicts from the Civil War through the War on Terror. Interspersed between galleries will be "character kiosks" where the attributes of patriotism, citizenship, courage, integrity, sacrifice and commitment will be demonstrated through the lives of the Medal of Honor recipients.
The current Medal of Honor Heritage Center is housed in 900 square feet inside Northgate Mall, and the collection of medals resides among biographies and artifacts from the 32 Tennesseans who have received the Medal of Honor. This history will move to the new center where it will join 14 permanent exhibits.
Davis Lundy, staff writer
6. Volkswagen Chattanooga expansion
Chattanooga will again be a first for Volkswagen in North America: the German automaker's first electric vehicle manufacturing facility on the continent.
VW is investing $800 million and hiring 1,000 workers to bring the electric vehicle plant online, though the economic impact to the area will be much greater. Herbert Diess, Volkswagen's chief executive, said there will be "many more suppliers" coming to service the new facility, which is slated to go next to Chattanooga's existing production plant.
As construction got underway this spring, VW's "Electrify America" subsidiary said it will focus $500 million on growing its charging infrastructure in 18 metro areas, including Chattanooga. Established in 2017 as part of VW's efforts to offset emissions following the company's emissions scandal,Electric America is spending $500 million through summer 2019 with plans to have 484 power stations, with more than 2,000 charging dispensers, installed or nearly so across the country by mid-2019. One in Hamilton County opened last year at the Ooltewah Walmart.
The VW subsidiary is building out the network as the German automaker prepares for offering its first purpose-built EV in 2020 with a hatchback about the size of a Golf. While this vehicle won't be offered in the United States, an all-electric SUV will come later next year, according to VW. That SUV, currently dubbed the I.D. Crozz, is slated to be made in Chattanooga starting in 2022.
Mike Pare, staff writer
7. Plans for the largest undeveloped riverfront property in Chattanooga
More than $200 million of residential and commercial development is planned for 210-plus acres on the Tennessee River in Lupton City — the biggest new residential development in the city in decades.
In late January 2019, the tract's new owner, Riverton Development Group, shared a preliminary plan to build a walkable, multi-generational community with an array of housing, a town center and numerous recreational amenities.
Becky Cope English, the Realtor for the project and one of the principals in Riverton LLC, said they hope to soon develop a master plan for the newly acquired site. The developers envision hiking trails, nature trails, parks and wetlands in the master plan that is now being drafted for the area, and plan to begin putting the development's infrastructure in place soon after a final plan is approved.
With the approval of city planners, Cope English estimated the entire build-out should be completed within five to seven years and could eventually include a couple hundred homes, condominiums and storefronts. The town center will include shops, restaurants and small businesses, and a central park for recreation and events.
In neighboring Lupton City, cleanup of the mill owned by Dixie Yarns and later R.L. Stowe is finally underway. In early April 2019, Wright Brothers Construction Inc. began remediation of the contaminated site, demolishing the rest of the structures still remaining on site, crushing the remaining materials, and capping the 11.8-acre site over the following six to eight months or so.
Dave Flessner, staff writer
8. Dave & Buster's and Aloft (and more?) at Hamilton Place
In the latter half of 2018, what was once Tennessee's largest mall began a string of additions that included the opening of Jim N' Nick's BBQ, Altar'd State and Molly Green boutiques in the mall perimeter, and the building of a brand-new Cheesecake Factory. That momentum will carry through to 2020, when both Dave & Buster's and Aloft hotel are expected to open near the former Sears outpost.
Construction for both is expected to start this spring. The openings will mark both chain's first location in the Chattanooga area.
Dave & Buster's offers food and beverage items combined with the latest games and attractions. Guests can watch sporting events in the D&B Sports Bar and play state-of-the-art simulators and games of skill they can't play anywhere else, the company said.
Aloft by Marriott hotels are known for trendy styles and use technology and design to enhance experiences and keep up with the needs of the modern traveler. The 135-room hotel at Hamilton Place will feature an urban-inspired design with loft-like guestrooms, featuring airy 9-foot ceilings and keyless entry using a smartphone or Apple Watch.
The hotel will locate between The Cheesecake Factory and the future Dave & Busters. Dick's Sporting Goods, now located across Gunbarrel Road from Hamilton Place mall in the Walmart shopping center, will relocate to space near where the Sears auto store was located on the first floor. The new Dick's store will occupy nearly 46,000 square feet, permits show.
CBL has said another restaurant will soon locate to the mall area as well.
Mike Pare, staff writer
9. Investment in inner-city neighborhoods
Work will start later this year on a $40 million apartment complex project coming to Alton Park, and by May, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency is expected to release a long-range plan for Area 3, which includes neighborhoods such as Avondale, Orchard Knob and Highland Park.
Meanwhile, the city of Chattanooga is amping up its new Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund, which debuted in early 2019 to aid neighborhood projects, small businesses and affordable housing. Mayor Andy Berke has already said he plans to expand the fund in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Slated for the current $1 million fund in this fiscal year are improvements to Tacoa Park in Brainerd, renovations to vacant, blighted properties in struggling areas such as Orchard Knob, and matching loans to help small businesses with so-called "hard" costs, such as facility renovations, equipment and inventory acquisition and even website development and marketing.
In conjunction with the affordable housing initiative, Ken Smith, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, said the association was working in the neighborhood to establish a home counseling program that was expected to start in late March. Anyone in Chattanooga can take advantage of the program, but participants will be required to live in the homes they buy. Those interested can contact Smith at 423-704-7451.
The Neighborhood Reinvestment Fund was created from money being paid back to the city by General Electric after the Alstom factories GE acquired in Chattanooga failed to meet its promised job targets when the plant closed two years ago.
10. Ironman 70.3 ... World Championships?
In late March 2019, Ironman officials announced that the 70.3 World Championships could be returning to Chattanooga. If so, it will mark the first time the race has duplicated a world championship host city under its current format, which takes the race to a different country each year.
Chattanooga also hosted the 2017 event and was named one of two finalists, along with St. George, Utah, to hold the event when it returns to North America in 2021.
Chattanooga has regularly ranked among the best host cities in Ironman's annual athlete surveys. The city was voted Best Overall Host City Experience for the 2018 full Ironman race and has ranked in the top 10 of multiple categories among the nearly 200 host cities each year it has hosted Ironman events.
The 2017 world championship here was the largest event Ironman 70.3 had ever produced. It brought nearly 15,000 visitors to Chattanooga.
The decision on where to host the 2021 event is expected by this summer.
In the meantime, the annual Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga will be held May 19. It has the most registrations for an Ironman event in Chattanooga history and the second most registrants worldwide for any Ironman 70.3 event ever, with the exception of world championship events.
Mark Pace, staff writer