Like many downtown areas across the U.S., Chattanooga’s city center saw considerable change throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — most significantly, the decline in people due to working from home, a lack of events, and temporary closures of businesses.
But as businesses reopen, downtown workers return to the office, and city events make a rebound, what changes can we expect to see in downtown Chattanooga? We spoke with Dawn Hjelseth, the Vice President of Marketing and Communication at downtown’s nonprofit economic development engine River City Company, about what’s next for downtown.
🏙️ By the numbers
2,200+ | The number of individuals who shared feedback on what they want to see on the riverfront
5,000 | The number of jobs that could be spurred by a downtown development that’s in the works
363 | Number of trash bags that were collected by Downtown Chattanooga Alliance in May (which is up 21% over April, and signals that people are returning downtown)
71 | The number of downtown businesses participating in a new “gift card” effort to spur economic stimulus.
🏙️ What recovery looks like now
Chattanooga Express Card program | The Chattanooga Express Card was created by River City Co. to bring individuals back downtown + provide economic stimulus to businesses that suffered during the height of the pandemic. The card allows you to put money on a gift card that you can use at any participating downtown business and gives “bonus dollars” depending on the amount you add.
Planning for the future | The pandemic allowed for lots of concept testing (for instance, the “open street” concept on Broad Street in October) and feedback from the community, which will be implemented into the ONE Riverfront Plan, a multi-year recovery effort for downtown. Some of that feedback looks like more seating, shaded areas, and public restrooms.
Attracting people to move here | While the pandemic may have initially led to fewer people downtown, mid-sized cities like Chattanooga are places where people are looking to relocate their businesses for the same reasons that others want to move here to work from home.
🏙️ A timeline of what to expect downtown
Next few months | A lot more + a wide variety of events beyond the summer music series and weekend happenings, i.e. different events that don’t just happen on a Friday night — Dawn’s example was a Wednesday morning tai chi session.
Further out | More businesses starting to return to downtown + filling up some of the vacant storefronts in the city.
Long term | Lots of infrastructure changes along the riverfront — like this neighborhood development project planned for the former Alstom site called The Bend + an implementation of changes stemming from the ONE Riverfront Plan.