Chattanoogans who have lived in the city for fewer than 25 years may not know what they missed in such a vibrant, active community, but residents who have been here for more than 25 years can fully appreciate the city's renaissance.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving today, let us be thankful for what has happened here since 1990. Just 15 of those things are:
1. The Tennessee Aquarium: The attraction, which opened overlooking the Tennessee River in 1992, is the catalyst for many of the changes in Chattanooga's downtown. Sneered at by some when it was first suggested, it nevertheless opened the door for many of the other things on this list.
2. Volkswagen: The recent emissions scandal notwithstanding, the automobile manufacturing plant — that announced its selection of the city in 2008 — employs more than 2,000 of us and may double that number when it ramps up work on its new SUV. And area plant suppliers only increase those job numbers.
3. The 21st Century Waterfront: For those who remember the dirty, urine-smelling, cobblestone-covered edge of the Tennessee River at Ross's Landing, the area was transformed in 2005, with room to sit, watch, play and appreciate the water.
4. Coolidge Park: While an actual Coolidge Park had been in existence on the North Shore for decades to honor area World War II Medal of Honor recipient Charles Coolidge, its 1999 transformation — with the addition of paved walkways, green meadows, an historic carousel and water feature, among other things — has made it a destination spot for tourists and local residents.
5. Walnut Street Bridge: The bridge over the Tennessee River isn't new, of course, having opened in 1891, but preservationists saw more than a useless pile of steel when it was declared unsafe and closed to traffic in 1978. So, in 1993, the renovated bridge opened as a pedestrian-only span and remains popular.
6. Tennessee Riverwalk: The 13-mile paved path from the Chickamauga Dam to downtown Chattanooga, largely developed throughout the 1990s, is beautiful as an architectural model as a whole or in most any part of the view it offers of river, creek, marshland or downtown.
7. Metropolitan Airport: Not only was the beautiful passenger terminal built in the last 25 years (1992), but airport officials have striven to make air travel out of Chattanooga affordable and have succeeded. For several years in a row now, the airport has seen record traffic.
8. Finley Stadium: Opened in 1997, the Southside stadium that is the home of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team is easily accessible, is in an area with plentiful parking and doesn't have a bad seat.
9. Chattanooga Market: Founded in 2001 and located in the accessible First Tennessee Pavilion, the arts and crafts and farmers market is free and offers more than eight months of Sunday afternoon shopping for fresh foods and specialty gifts.
10. Moccasin Bend National Archeological District: Created with a United States House bill introduced by Rep. Zach Wamp in 2001 and presently part of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the peninsula of land nearly surrounded by the Tennessee River is considered to have one of the most diverse and best preserved archeological remains in the Tennessee River Valley.
11. EPB: The electricity distribution and telecommunications company, in 2010, became the first company in the United States to offer 1 Gigabit/s high-speed Internet, which was more than 200 times faster than the national average, and has been credited as one of the reasons the city is now home to a number of Internet start-up companies.
12. Mayor-council form of government: The city's form of government, adopted in 1990, replaced a less representative variety and now allows the opportunity for a more diverse group of city leaders.
13. Merged school system: Though people may have various opinions about the effectiveness of public schools, the 1997 merger of the urban Chattanooga City Schools and and rural Hamilton County Schools, at a minimum, eliminated a duplication of services and saved money.
14. Main Street renaissance: Twenty-five years ago, the last of the old businesses that once made Main a thriving street of commerce were closing. After a number of years of being an area residents avoided, the street's proximity to downtown has spurred a revival of trendy shops, restaurants and places to live.
15. North Chattanooga renaissance: Now more commonly known as the North Shore, the area just across the Tennessee River from downtown was a neighborhood with a considerable amount of rundown housing 25 years ago. Now gentrified and trendy, its proximity to downtown makes us wonder today why it ever fell into disfavor.