published Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Timeline calls for Chattanooga's Harriet Tubman site demolition this summer

The site of the former Harriet Tubman Homes is seen in this October 2013 file photo. Chattanooga is moving closer to buying the 37-acre tract in East Chattanooga and beginning the years-long process to transform the site for economic development.
The site of the former Harriet Tubman Homes is seen in this October 2013 file photo. Chattanooga is moving closer to buying the 37-acre tract in East Chattanooga and beginning the years-long process to transform the site for economic development.
Photo by John Rawlston.

In two weeks the city of Chattanooga will own the dilapidated former Harriet Tubman public housing site, but Mayor Andy Berke said it could take several years to see an industrial user on the East Chattanooga property.

The long-awaited deal will be complete April 21. Berke originally announced the city’s bid last July, but the deal fell through two months later, only to be resurrected upon a new bid from the city.

City officials already have paid $250,000 for earnest costs and will give the Chattanooga Housing Authority the rest of the $2.6 million in cash at closing.

“This is a big project that is important to the city,” Berke said. “This isn’t a short-term project. You’re going to see the best results of this a few years down the line.”

Berke’s plan is to demolish the buildings on the site and clear the 36 acres of land to market for future industrial use.

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce representatives said last year the plan could include other neighboring properties. J.Ed. Marston, communications director for the Chamber, said Tuesday the only property currently being considered to expand the site is owned by Hamilton County Department of Education.

Since Berke’s final offer for Tubman drains most of the money the City Council had approved for the deal — a total of $3 million — the mayor will have to request about $2 million extra for the clean-up and demolition.

But the cost could be higher.

City officials are assessing the 76 buildings for any asbestos or lead-based paint that would have to be removed based on federal environmental guidelines.

To offset the costs, city officials are asking the council today to approve a blanket resolution that would allow them to pursue any local, state or federal grants for the demolition and site preparation.

City Attorney Wade Hinton said the agreement will require officials to give a monthly update. If any of the grants require city funding, the request will go back to the council, he said.

“We just thought it would be wise to do take this approach since there might be opportunities that might be more time sensitive,” Hinton said.

Berke estimates demolition should begin by this summer after bids are submitted and a contractor selected.

City officials have promised with the purchase of Tubman that jobs would be created for East Chattanooga residents.

In order to ensure jobs, the Peoples Coalition for Affordable Housing — a group of area residents and organizers — proposed that the city enter a community benefits agreement. This type of agreement would ensure that a certain percentage of jobs go to residents within a certain ZIP code or area.

These types of agreements have been used elsewhere. In April 2013, a developer entered an agreement with New York officials to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory, with a stipulation that at least 51 percent of non-construction workers on the project would be local residents. The agreement further stipulated that underemployed residents of the immediate neighborhood be given first priority.

When Perrin Lance — president of Chattanooga Organized for Action, who acts as a liaison for the coalition — made the request for a community benefits agreement at City Council, Chairman Yusuf Hakeem balked.

“We have worked very hard on this project,” Hakeem told Lance. “I don’t have objections to you presenting what you did, but I’m working at not being offended.”

Councilman Moses Freeman, who represents the neighborhood near Tubman, said a community benefits agreement isn’t needed because he has already promised to bring jobs to the community.

“[This coalition] doesn’t want to trust me,” Freeman said. “I’m very sensitive to the people in my district and to achieve their goals.”

Instead of a benefits agreement, Berke said his staff is researching how to stipulate in the request for proposals that some of the workers for demolition work should be hired from within the community. But he didn’t give any details on what that type of proposal would look like.

Lance said the mayor’s idea is a step in the right direction, but he said the city should consider including that a specific percentage of jobs be kept for the community.

“I think what he’s doing is good, but where is the accountability?” Lance asked.

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

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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