Main Terrain Art Park now open

Authored By Maggie Behringer

Even the blistering cold of a January morning couldn’t keep the crowds away from the grand opening of the Main Terrain, the latest addition to Chattanooga’s park system.

“It’s another great day in Chattanooga and another great day for the arts in Chattanooga,” said Dan Bowers, president of ArtsBuild, in opening the ceremony that included speakers Mayor Ron Littlefield, Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Director Larry Zehnder, Main Terrain artist Thomas Sayre and a member of the PlayCore Company team.

The collaborative project has brought together several government, public art and philanthropic organizations, as well as local businesses, over the past three years. 

In fact, the 1.72-acre tract of land-situated between West Main Street and West 13th Street-was originally proposed by the Department of Public Works as a drainage feature.

From those early beginnings, the Main Terrain park has grown into more than an art park, a solution to runoff water or the revitalization of an abandoned brownfield.

As Zehnder noted in his remarks, it is all of those things: a truly unique public space that is an art, business and ecology park.

All in one
The Main Terrain’s most prominent element is the public art installation designed by Sayre, constructed at the artist’s Raleigh, N.C., studio at Clearscapes and assembled in Chattanooga by his and studio director Christian Karkow’s team.

Three concrete pylons anchor the nine-piece sculpture, each topped with a moveable steel truss that can spin around to create a physical bridge structure at the heart of the park. The four surrounding illuminated pylons and the two fixed pylons at each end of the park make for the visual illusion of one continuous bridge.

The track running in a loop around the artwork features four haiku poems to represent the four seasons. Five fitness stations equipped with a new line of GameTime exercise modules from PlayCore also dot the pathway.

The manicured lawn areas not only serve as inviting community space but also conceal the park’s stormwater management functions.

Zehnder announced that, with Main Terrain up and running, 1.5 million gallons of water will be diverted annually from being funneled into the city’s sewer system and stored instead in on-site detention ponds.

An additional 40,000 gallons of accumulated stormwater will be recycled in an irrigation system. 

Zehnder also shared information pertaining to the economic impact of public art and park innovation and the other elements of Chattanooga’s continuing renaissance. Over the last 24 years and since phase one of the Riverwalk revitalization, the city has seen $2.7 billion in development in a ratio of $8 from the private sector for every $1 spent by the city government.

The funding for Sayre and the overall park came from the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town Grant-a $250,000 grant secured by ArtsBuild and Public Art Chattanooga. The Lyndhurst Foundation was also instrumental in the park’s completion. 

A national model
Though still in its conceptual stages, Main Terrain received high praise from a national source for its ability to demonstrate the power of “placemaking”-a concept the National Endowment for the Arts describes as projects that “contribute to the livability of communities and place the arts at their core.” 

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, mentioned the project in his post on the official National Endowment for the Arts blog. The expert was in town in September to speak about creative placemaking at the Arts Education Partnership Forum. 

City officials broke ground on the site on Oct. 25, 2012. In just three months, the park has been completed.

“The more I make pieces of art, the more I think that art, if boiled down, is really about connecting people within their community,” said Sayre, who has installed numerous pieces in the U.S. and abroad. “It doesn’t get better than this-the give-and-take [of collaboration] in the face of a larger idea. I’m grateful to have a piece of this very successful project.”

Sayre designed the public artwork to visually connect the Southside with downtown, just as the park acts as a physical corridor between the two areas of Chattanooga. The artist drew inspiration from the Walnut Street Bridge.

For Littlefield, Main Terrain also looks back to the site’s industrial history.

“I’m just awestruck by this,” Littlefield said. “Cities are about linkages and gateways and transitions and transformations, and this park is all of those things.”

Officials cut the proverbial ribbon by turning the wheels of Sayre’s truss-topped pylons.