The 700 block of Market Street is an important parcel of land in the heart of downtown that leaders have been working to develop, but they are waiting for the right project, and in the meantime, the space will become a pocket park and food truck haven.
Leaders are dubbing the gravel lot Center Park, which will be a location for various events and activities, a leisure spot for the public and a new food truck court.
Kim White, president of downtown economic development organization River City Company, said leaders are still in discussions with developers about what could go in that space in the future, and they don’t want to make it parking, although White is aware of the city’s parking needs and how that impacts attracting developers.
She said River City leaders plan to work with the new mayoral administration on that issue.
“Once you make it a parking lot, it’s hard to make it anything else,” she said. “[This idea] fits more with the mission than trying to fill it with parking.”
Lack of parking downtown hasn’t hindered development of the 700 block, White said. It’s more about finding the right project. And she hopes that happens within the next year.
“We’ve had the 700 block for about a year and a half, and we waited three years on the Bijou for the right concept,” she said. “Sometimes, it just needs to be the right thing. It takes a lot of things coming together.”
In the past, the food trucks have frequented River City Company program Fresh on Fridays, which takes place every Friday between April and October in Miller Plaza.
The food truck court at Center Park will officially launch in conjunction with Fresh on Fridays’ 2013 opening day, April 12, with a ribbon cutting to celebrate the new food truck court.
But some trucks will start selling food from Center Park as early as this week.
But the street food scene in Chattanooga is growing, and Miller Plaza can’t accommodate all the trucks, River City leaders said.
The trucks will move down to the 700 block, but Fresh on Fridays will still include produce vendors, artisans and music.
And River City leaders still want area residents to use Miller Plaza as a place to sit and eat because Center Park won’t have seating.
Additional programming for Center Park will include Movies at Center Park-formerly known as Movies at the 700 Block-which will take place on select Saturdays in September.
River City Company leaders are also looking into creating a community garden at Center Park and hope Chattanoogans and visitors will use the space to gather and enjoy downtown, similar to other community green spaces.
The recent announcement of a new grilled cheese truck called The Muenster Truck brings Chattanooga’s food truck total back up to five main trucks.
The owners of Taco Sherpa recently got out of the business.
Owner of Famous Nater’s Nathan Flynt said that other major cities, such as Atlanta and Boston, have had success with similar food truck courts.
“Atlanta has two designated areas that land owners have turned into street food parks, and it’s working really well,” Flynt said. “I’ve been in contact with the president of the street food coalition there, and he says that’s the way to go.”
The food truck leaders will still be at other areas around the city, such as the Chattanooga Market, but the new street food park will help cut down on confusion about locations.
“In all the research we’ve been doing, this animates spaces and drives foot traffic, and those are all really good things,” he said. “We are all so excited.”
White said there had been some discussion about whether food trucks hurt the business of area restaurants, but she said it’s actually the opposite.
Leaders think food trucks will drive foot traffic, bringing more new people to the area, who may also stop at area restaurants-especially if the food truck lines are long or not serving a person’s favorite dish on a certain day.