published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Chattanooga City Council gives OK for Mayor Andy Berke's Tubman purchase negotiations

The Chattanooga Housing Authority's Harriet Tubman complex in East Chattanooga sits vacant.
The Chattanooga Housing Authority's Harriet Tubman complex in East Chattanooga sits vacant.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

The City Council:

• Approved a $6,500 grant from the Benwood Foundation to host a joint workshop with the Dutch Cycling Embassy and the Royal Netherlands Embassy to research bike transportation in the city.

• Authorized Ross Glass & Aluminum to repair the Holmberg Bridge, the glass bridge near the Hunter Museum of Art, for $11,800.

• Approved paying James D. Lee Inc. $85,000 for two sanitary sewer easements related to the East Brainerd Road Sanitary Sewer Relocation Project.

Less than a week after Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced plans to buy the derelict Harriet Tubman housing development, City Council members gave him the green light to move ahead.

The only councilman to vote “no” questioned whether the administration’s hasty request could cut out community feedback and lead to the loss of federal dollars for cleanup.

“This is a big budget item,” said Ken Smith after Tuesday’s council meeting. “I haven’t been able to dig in and see what the bigger problems could be.”

City officials voted 8-1 to approve a resolution that gives the mayor’s office negotiating authority to buy the former East Chattanooga public housing site and redevelop the land for a future job site.

The resolution was added to the city agenda Friday, two days after Berke announced plans to negotiate with the Chattanooga Housing Authority to buy the complex for $1 million and tear down the buildings and clean up the land for $2 million.

The language of the resolution authorized the city to write a letter of intent, but on Monday the mayor’s office changed the language allowing officials to immediately open negotiations with the Chattanooga Housing Authority.

Randy Durham, former head of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors, said the small change makes a big difference.

“If you present a written offer, you’ve got a deal you are bound by,” Durham said. “A letter of intent has no binding authority.”

But Chief of Staff Travis McDonough said the change in resolution wording doesn’t lock the city into a specific deal. The administration didn’t change its plans at the last minute, he said.

Councilman Chris Anderson said the change allows the administration to offer a deal to the housing authority that could be higher or lower than the original $1 million offer Berke announced and doesn’t lock them into one price.

At Tuesday’s meeting, East Chattanooga activist Patrick Kellogg encouraged the council to bring in a business that would support jobs for the local community, which is a majority low-income area.

McDonough told the council that the administration equated the Harriet Tubman site to Enterprise South.

Smith said he isn’t against the resolution but he questioned how he could get adequate community feedback in less then a week. He also questioned whether the city’s purchase could make the city ineligible for any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grants. But he hasn’t had time to get an answer.

Berke spokeswoman Lacie Stone said, “We will carefully make sure we don’t do anything to recuse ourselves from a brownfield grant in the unlikely event that it’s needed.”

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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