Editor's note: Below is a letter signed by nearly two dozen business leaders urging continued investment in the health and safety of downtown Chattanooga.
If you spend time in downtown Chattanooga, you have probably experienced these scenarios:
Looking for directions or how to access the shuttle. Expecting planters and other aesthetic additions that provide color. Banners and other markers that highlight downtown destinations. Being panhandled or approached by a homeless person looking for food. Dodging trash and other obstacles on streets and sidewalks.
You may wonder whether the city should be handling these issues. Public support for services throughout the city cover essential services like garbage pickup, recycling, maintaining parks and playgrounds and city streets. But other services may require more focused support to maintain the vitality of an experience that families, friends, neighbors and tourists expect in a Renaissance City. Critical investments in services that make Chattanooga appear well kept, inviting and the place to live, work and visit require time, commitment and resources.
Chattanooga is known for thinking boldly, identifying critical issues and making strategic choices. We acknowledge projects like the Tennessee Aquarium, the Riverwalk, the Creative Discovery Museum, the transformation of Main Street, saving the Walnut Street Bridge and the remodeling of Miller Park as signature improvements. But time does not stand still and other cities want to be like Chattanooga. Our competitive edge has made the difference and that is what makes us distinctive.
In 2017, the community responded to a River City Co. survey focused on our downtown and how to spur the positive momentum going forward. From retail to parking, cleanliness, events, livability and safety, 1,091 community members shared their comments and insights. Almost half of the respondents expressed a positive feeling about a revitalized downtown Chattanooga, but also recognized the need to address issues like panhandling, homelessness and other safety related concerns.
There are organizations in our community that support vulnerable populations who find themselves without a home or needing to ask for financial or other assistance. But typically those organizations do not have the time or the financial resources to deploy people daily on the street to interact, support and connect people to services. But, a Business Improvement District or BID, could help fill that gap.
Downtown stakeholders have held a series of public meetings to discuss a BID in Chattanooga. Overwhelmingly, the response has been the desire to have enhanced safety and cleanliness services. After an inventory of existing city-funded services, the BID could provide just that.
Could a downtown Chattanooga BID deliver homelessness outreach services like Nashville's BID that provided 26,000 days of housing and prevented 2,170 arrests? Could a downtown Chattanooga BID provide beautification and ambassador services like Louisville's BID that removed 280,000 pounds of litter, assisted over 65,000 visitors, distributed 90,000 downtown maps and provided 1,200 safety escorts in 2017? Could a downtown Chattanooga BID help grow the downtown retail base by 46 percent and add 40 new stores along with multiple grocery stores like downtown Raleigh's BID?
And looking outside of the south, could a downtown Chattanooga BID have a program like Capitol Hill, D.C.'s BID Ready, Willing and Working initiative? It "aims to break the cycle of homelessness, welfare dependency and criminal recidivism through a paid-work rehabilitation program focused on the hardest to serve homeless population — single, able-bodied adults, the majority of whom have histories of incarceration and substance addiction. 70 percent of participants from Ready, Willing & Working remain employed, independently housed and drug-free after 3 years of entering the program." Could a downtown Chattanooga BID offer 4,630 walking escorts or 712 vehicle services (lockouts and jump starts) like the University City District BID in West Philadelphia did in 2017?
The simple answer is yes. Business Improvement Districts are flexible tools that are designed to uniquely address the needs of the cities they are created in and by the people who see the needs every day. As a BID would be a self-imposed and self-governed tax assessment on those that own property in the BID area, it's time to have the conversation with those stakeholders and others if a BID is a tool that people want to invest in. Granted, BIDs are operating successfully in over 1,000 cities, it is imperative that as a community we decide if it's time for a BID in our downtown. And if so, what services can be provided that can not only assist in creating a competitive edge in our continued economic development as a city but also compassionately and smartly address the real social issues that make their way to the streets of downtown Chattanooga daily?
If you want to be a part of the conversation, help find solutions to the clean and safe issues affecting downtown and have a voice in a potential Downtown Chattanooga BID, we encourage you to attend community meetings in the spring or fill out the online survey at rivercitycompany.com. And whether you live downtown, work in our urban core or enjoy any of the downtown attractions, retail and restaurants, we will all benefit from a cleaner and safer downtown Chattanooga.
Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce
Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau
Riverfront Business and Resident Partnership
Jonathan Armstrong, area sales director, Dynamic Group-Holiday Inn Chattanooga Downtown
Tom Griscom, board chairman, River City Co.
John Healy, managing director, SVN/Healy & Co.
Mike Kramer, chairman, Southeastern Trust Co.
Donna Maddox, co-chairman of Chattanooga Interagency Council on Homelessness
Ken Merkel, general manager, Avocet Hospitality/The Read House
Rich Mozingo, president, general manager, Chattanooga Lookouts
Erik Neil, chef and owner, Easy Bistro
Mitch Patel, president & CEO, Vision Hospitality Group
Dana and Charles Perry, downtown residents and homeowners
Todd Phillips, president, Noon Management
Amanda and Richard Pinson, downtown residents and homeowners
Tiffanie Robinson, president & CEO, Lamp Post Properties
Keith Sanford, president & CEO, Tennessee Aquarium
Henry Schulson, executive director, Creative Discovery Museum
Virginia Anne Sharber, executive director, Hunter Museum of American Art
Jimmy White, principal DEW, LLC
Kim White, president and CEO, River City Co.
Nick Wilkinson, executive director, Tivoli Theatre Foundation
John Wiygul, partner, general manager, High Point Climbing and Fitness