River City Company leaders move toward goal of adding downtown housing, making improvements

Authored By chloe.morrison

Leaders with economic development nonprofit River City Company said they hope to have announcements soon about new downtown housing and ideas that emerged out of a recent design charrette.

“We should have an announcement pretty soon on a building we are going to be investing in to turn into housing,” President of River City Company Kim White said. 

White also said that River City leaders have presented a plan for downtown development to city officials, and they are working toward getting some of the ideas in the plan on the city’s budget. 

The plan White mentioned developed out of the October charrette. It’s meant to be the basis for the ongoing design of the city’s core. 

“Our administrators spent time carefully reviewing the plans with their teams and will provide recommendations and feedback in their area of expertise,” Lacie Stone, communications director for the city, said via email. 

The plan addresses features such as downtown housing, transportation, bicycle improvements, parking and public spaces. 

Click here to see the entire plan and here for the Nooga.com article about the charrette. 

After getting input from about 200 community members and stakeholders, a team of professionals designed the plan, which addresses some of the challenges involved in downtown development. 

According to the study:

Input gathered throughout the process indicated that the biggest issues in City Center are a lack of retail activity, a lack of activity outside of normal business hours, a concentration of vacant and underutilized buildings, and aggressive panhandling by transient users of the district.

Leaders decided that the most effective “intervention” would be increasing the number of residents downtown because that will attract more retail and service businesses and create activity outside of traditional business hours. 

Repurposing existing office buildings is one way to achieve that goal, but there are some challenges, which include parking, a lack of accessory services that support residential use, and economic and architectural problems, according to the plan. 

Some of the downtown buildings are difficult to repurpose. For example, the Chattanooga Bank Building has gotten attention from developers, but nothing has worked out so far.

“That’s a complicated building,” White said. “It doesn’t have parking next to it. It’s historic. It’s expensive.”

That building was under contract for a while in 2008, and a group wanted to turn it into a hotel. But the recession hindered that. 

It’s possible that the building could be turned into housing, but if that doesn’t work out, there is a lot more interest, White said. There had been some conversations about making it student housing, but it’s unclear if that will work out. 

“We feel that the market would support any type of housing and that workforce housing is something desperately needed downtown,” White said. 

River City Company owns the 700 block of Market Street, and White said she would love to announce something this year for that space and that housing would likely be a component of that announcement. 

In addition to housing, officials are working to revamp Broad Street with a protected bike lane, among other improvements. 

City officials have submitted a grant application to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Stone said. 

And River City leaders also want to put resources into improvements in public spaces such as Miller Park and Patten Parkway. 

“We have a really great history in Chattanooga of investing in public spaces and watching the economic effects happen,” River City’s communication specialist Amy Donahue said. “The North Shore wouldn’t be what it is today without Coolidge Park. If we invest in those public spaces and make those areas places people want to be, it’s going to add more interest from private developers.”