published Thursday, May 5th, 2011

New name, new purpose

The former John P. Franklin Middle School will be renamed the Southside Professional Center and will be the site of a semiprofessional summer basketball league, business incubator and job training center, said property owner W.C. “Bud” Helton.

“It’s going to be a pretty busy place,” Helton said. “The gym will be for youth camps. We’ll use the auditorium for different kinds of entertainment, concerts, gospel sings and theatrical work.”

Helton, a former environmental consultant for Hamilton County Schools, and Bethlehem Center officials will announce plans for the building on East 37th Street at a news conference Tuesday. The Bethlehem Center, a nonprofit community center in Alton Park founded by the United Methodist Church, plans to operate some programs out of the facility.

“That building is going to be a tremendous opportunity to stimulate the community,” said Dwan Austin, who will be the site manager. “It’s going to bring life.”

The Bethlehem Center is one of few service providers in the Alton Park community and the needs of the community are great, said the Rev. Lurone “Coach” Jennings, the center’s executive director.

“There is a big need. There is unemployment all around,” Jennings said. “People are without jobs. There are not businesses in South Chattanooga that are creating jobs for the community. So we’re trying to train for jobs and help with job creation.”

Helton purchased the building in May 2009 for $110,000, then spent another $110,000 on renovations and repairs, according to news reports.

He initially sought a manufacturing, or M-1, zoning for the site, which would allow anything on the property except houses and a cemetery. But after hearing residents’ concerns, he had the property zoned as R-4, and it now can be used for office space, a training facility and a health center, according to news reports.

Helton said that former NBA basketball player Joe C. Meriweather, who has a ministry to help troubled youth, contacted him about starting a Legions Basketball Association at the site. He said plans aren’t firm but there has been discussion about a weeklong basketball camp directed by former NBA players.

“We’ve got some great plans,” Helton said. “We hope that the people get behind it and we have it operating fairly smoothly by the end of the year.”

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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