Group plans revitalization effort for Glass Street, East Chattanooga

(Photo: Glass House Collective)

Authored By Mary Barnett

The Glass Farm Historic District in East Chattanooga is an area of the city that many drive through, but few know about or have reason to stop nowadays.

Glass Street is actually State Highway 17 and is one leg of a route that connects Enterprise South to downtown Chattanooga via Bonny Oakes Drive, Campbell Street, Glass Street, Dodson Avenue, North Holtzclaw Avenue and East Main Street.

Long-time residents recall when the area around the once-thriving Glass Street commercial corridor was filled with stores, banks and grocery stores.

“When it was booming downtown, this area was the same way,” Etta Kanipes told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2010. “Red Food Store was here. We had banks, about three dry cleaners, dentists and doctors, and you felt safe walking to and from,” she said in the news report.

A 2011 traffic study on the Bonny Oaks leg shows 12,585 cars passing through the area on a daily basis, indicating a potentially new target market for the corridor.

Now, a new group of motivated and engaged citizens are hoping to give those drivers a reason to stop.

The Glass House Neighborhood Collective is a newly formed organization born out of the former CreateHere offices.

When CreateHere dissolved in December as part of a planned “supernova,” four of the group’s initiatives were selected for continued funding by the Lyndhurst Foundation. Will This Float?, MakeWork and The Company Lab also received challenge grants from the foundation.

“We are that bright, shining star that [CreateHere] hoped for,” Teal Thibaud, Glass House director of communications and outreach, said.

The collective was formed in December by three former key players in the Chattanooga STAND survey initiative, which provided a platform for residents to share ideas about their community. The trio looked at survey results and ended up zeroing in on the nearly 600 responses from residents in the 37406 ZIP code area for East Chattanooga.

“Bringing together community leaders and finding solutions to our community issues through action spurred momentum and encouraged us to take the excitement and creativity to a specific place,” Thibaud said.

After seeing the commercial corridor on Glass Street with its 1920s storefronts, churches and intact historic buildings, the group chose the area as a place to focus their energy toward a revitalization effort.

Figuring out how to turn data and ideas into action was the first step.

“We believe the best way to start is to do it in a specific place and focus on a place. Glass Street is of particular interest to us because we think its market position has been improved by the economic development projects at Enterprise South and its proximity to downtown,” Katherine Currin, program director, said.

Since launching the collective a little over two months ago, the three-person operation has hit the ground running raising money, writing grants, securing a work space, meeting with neighborhood leaders and residents, and forming partnerships with individuals and organizations who also think Glass Street’s best days are still ahead.

Partners include Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, East Chattanooga Improvement, Chattanooga Regional Planning Agency, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Councilman Peter Murphy and individual artists and designers.

A simple belief in the power of creativity and the role artists play as change agents is paramount to the collective’s short- and long-term ambitions, according to Thibaud.

The initiative is now a finalist in the running to receive a Creative Placemaking Grant in the amount of $450,000 from ArtPlace America. Winners will be announced in May.

The highly competitive grant is a public-private collaboration of nine of the nation’s top foundations; eight federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts; and six of the nation’s largest banks, according to a press release announcing the 128 finalists competing for $15 million in funds.

“This round of applicants shows there is serious momentum building for creative placemaking in the U.S.,” ArtPlace President Carol Coletta said in a prepared statement.

If awarded, Currin said the collective intends to utilize the grant money to support a series of projects by individual artists. Designing streetlights, trash cans, park benches and signage for businesses in the area are just a few of the creative ideas on the table. Storefront rehabilitations and continued renovations to the group’s new Glass Street home will also be covered by the grant.

CNE is exploring ways to provide below market rate financing for new businesses and residents seeking to invest in the area.

“We have some easy resources we can bring … And we’re excited about what the ArtPlace grant could mean. But we’ll be in this with them as long as they’re in it,” Nick Wilkinson, CNE’s director of development, said.

Whether they win or lose the ArtPlace grant, the trio and each of their partners is committed to the long-term vision to foster lasting change in the area.

“Nothing will happen overnight, either way,” Currin said.

Thibaud said anyone interested in learning more or getting involved should attend the next planning meeting on Thursday, March 8 at 4 p.m. in the East Chattanooga Recreation Center.

Plans are in the works now to begin a series of public input sessions with residents, architects, artists, elected officials and nonprofit leaders to develop plans for making Glass Street “safer, cleaner and more inviting.”

In April, the first-ever Glass Street Block Party will take place in conjunction with the 10-day HATCH festival. The CityShare speaker series will move to Glass Street beginning in May. And a 10-week business-planning course with Launch Chattanooga will be offered in the new location in June.