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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ In this view from the 1600 block of Chestnut Strreet, graffiti is seen on a red fence separating the Pilgrim's Pride chicken plant from the sidewalk. Refridgerated trailers sit on the parking lot in front of the nearby Broad Street apartment complex where pre-leasing is set to start soon.

A Chattanooga landmark is under attack.

One of our city's poverty-fighting, community-building institutions is being threatened.

Not a school.

Not a church.

It's the chicken plant.

The Pilgrim's Pride poultry processing plant is one of the most important places in urban Chattanooga.

And it's being bullied.

Again.

For some 50 years, Pilgrim's Pride has maintained a steady downtown presence, established in the Southside long before the Southside was cool.

Sure, it may smell — terribly, some days — and folks may joke or scoff, but rarely, if ever, have I heard those jokes and scoffs come from working-class Chattanoogans.

For many, Pilgrim's Pride is a lifeline.

The plant has employed thousands of men and women, including some of our most vulnerable.

Many downtown businesses won't hire felons. Pilgrim's Pride does. That makes Pilgrim's Pride a community leader.

Decades ago, few developers cared about the plant or its smell.

But today? It's prime downtown real estate. Outside the plant? Bars and restaurants, apartments and condos, all close and getting closer.

Recently, one businessman — his $9 million company headquarters is being built one block away — told Chattanooga leaders that the plant is "bad for our city."

Bad?

Bad for which city?

It's not bad for the 1,300 men and women working at the plant.

It's not bad for their families.

Or children.

For them, the plant paycheck builds community, security, stability.

And it decreases violence, hopelessness and grief.

Years ago, when African American families populated the Southside and real estate prices were depressed, I don't recall any developers complaining the plant was "bad."

Yet today? Land values in the Southside are sky high. We've whitewashed downtown with boutique hotels, social clubs and micro-breweries — places that only smell good. Many black families, unable to afford downtown prices, have left. So now, the plant's got to go.

That's not urban planning.

That's elitism.

Sure, I'll say it before you do: there's no processing plant in my backyard. I don't routinely smell the plant. Don't have a business nearby. If writing this column makes me a hypocrite, then so be it.

The chicken plant tension? It reflects a larger issue:

In the last two years, there have been 78 planned or completed housing developments in this city.

There's $50 million in planned housing — condos, townhomes, apartments — on the North Shore alone.

Don't forget the big plans for South Broad Street.

When do we hit peak housing in Chattanooga?

When is enough enough?

Why do we keep making it harder for poor folks to live downtown?

And so easy for wealthy Chattanoogans?

Are condos outpacing jobs?

How many downtown apartments are affordable?

What does it mean to create such a renters' economy in Chattanooga?

"The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a renter working 40 hours a week and earning minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment — in exactly zero counties nationwide," states Curbed.com's report on America's affordable housing crisis.

For every dozen headlines about new condos and multimillion-dollar fancy renovations, there are zero headlines about multimillion-dollar planned initiatives to end poverty. Or hire felons. Or build affordable housing in downtown Chattanooga.

Zero.

Boutique Chattanooga keeps winning.

And Chicken Plant Chattanooga keeps losing.

Sure, it may smell.

But something else stinks far worse.

David Cook can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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David Cook

 

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