published Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Southside's revival: Bring on new ramps and a gateway Chattanooga deserves

The Southside’s old U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites are ripe for development, and an I-24 ramp revamp is on the drawing board.
The Southside’s old U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites are ripe for development, and an I-24 ramp revamp is on the drawing board.
Photo by Staff File Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Chattanooga's Southside is the city's new hot spot — like North Chattanooga and the 21st Century Waterfront on the Tennessee River before it.

If you haven't seen Southside recently, you should drive through. The neighborhood's new and renovated homes and condos are top notch. Its Battle Academy elementary school is inviting. The new sidewalk art and quirky businesses on Main Street are energizing.

Now, a plan for the first commercial project in the largest undeveloped tract in Southside should really push the reincarnation of a long neglected section of Chattanooga where Wheland Foundry and U.S. Pipe once operated on a 141-acre parcel fronting South Broad Street near 28th Street.

Soon, an 80-year-old, 40,000 square-foot brick building on 2 acres of the foundry site will be remodeled into new offices, retail developments and possibly a restaurant.

It's a great idea, and there are plenty of examples of similar successful efforts around Chattanooga. In fact, much of downtown Chattanooga is recycled 19th and 20th century buildings: Jack's Alley, the Sports Barn, Big River Grill, Warehouse Row. On the North Shore, there's the Knitting Mill, a very fun antiques store in what once was a textile factory where many a Chattanooga seamstress made pajamas with feet, among other things.

Unfortunately, our city has a cadre of naysayers who would rather gripe than step forward with real effort toward change.

Here's a case in point: One commenter on the newspaper's Times Editorial Page website recently derided this Southside project indirectly while responding to a story and editorial about the high number of crashes on Interstate 24 in and near Chattanooga: "TDOT [the Tennessee Department of Transportation] is spending $40,000,000 on an exit revamp to partly assist the developers of the old Wheland property. That money could be used to fix I-24 in order to keep people alive," the comment read.

That's not a fair -- or even accurate -- statement. The ramp revamp would aid all of Chattanooga as well as drivers.

Have you ever tried to follow the breadcrumbs to get on or off of Interstate 24 on Chattanooga's Southside? Have you said a prayer as you stomped your accelerator and hoped a truck wouldn't send you to meet your maker? Have you ever had to give someone directions for how to get to Rock City after getting off I-24? Your directions would sound something like this; "Well, you turn ... and look for the adult book store ... and turn ..."

Please, please, TDOT! Do help Chattanooga fix this important gateway to our city and its two biggest tourism draws -- Rock City in one direction and the Tennessee Aquarium in the other.

If the fix also happens to help the Wheland and U.S. Pipe property developers, too, that's alright.

In fact, it's better than alright. Perhaps reasonable access will help draw to the city a cool new destination on the old U.S. Pipe plant site -- one that will be worthy of the site's riverfront panorama.

Instead, think of what we -- and our visitors -- see right now. It's a frame that screams dilapidation and "vacancy" -- not exactly a good first, or last. impression.

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nucanuck said...

Any thoughts on why the brown fields and poverty in the Southside caught people's fancy for renewal ahead of the area between downtown and Missionary ridge?

January 3, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.
librul said...

You see, children, the word for today is compassion. We must show compassion to developers and the icons of tourism in our town; and bulldoze away the blight and poverty-ridden areas of our city so the poor who have jobs working as soda jerks in eateries and as clerks in big-box stores can save up their minimum wage fortunes and buy a $200,000.00 condo of their very own with scrap metal street art at their doorstep and live the dreams of those millionaire urban visionaries who made it all possible.

Tomorrow's word for the day is gentrification.

January 3, 2014 at 7:07 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Problem is Pam, the developers of this old Foundry property are also the Aetna Mtn TIF Bond Issue scammer. Of course, these developers will demand our taxppayer dollars fund the capital development while we cannot even keep homeless shelters open during freezing whether. Rather be a naysayer than just plan stupid with very wrong priorities.

January 3, 2014 at 3:59 p.m.
cooljb said...

Naysayer? Possible restaurant, jewel of the city this, next big thing that. Every time the TIF crowd needs a new tax assistance ploy they can count on the writer of this story. The naysayer was exactly correct when they said ""TDOT [the Tennessee Department of Transportation] is spending $40,000,000 on an exit revamp to partly assist the developers of the old Wheland property. That money could be used to fix I-24 in order to keep people alive,". Read this: We don't have the money for the so called "developers" to find a "master developer" to go with a $40,000,000 tax payer investment when I-24 is killing people almost everyday. When was the last time you heard of anyone getting killed trying to get to Broad Street from I-24 because of the exit, have you ever, really? Another thing, Rock City is in Georgia, when was the last time Tennessee built a $40,000,000 exit to facilitate a Georgia attraction? Exactly, this is a big tax payer sucker punch!

January 3, 2014 at 5:47 p.m.
gypsylady said...

"Cadre of naysayers?" Has it occurred to you that there are those of us who follow these issues who have spent years studying sound and sane development practices - how have studied what works and what hasn't in other parts of the country? First of all, my guess is that this area will soon be on the table as another TIF district. A type of financing district that has been discontinued in the states where it all began. Why? Because the numbers didn't work out. These districts eroded the tax base to the point that ordinary landowners were shouldering a disproportionate amount of services. Then there is the issue of clawbacks. We don't, apparently, want to "get it in writing." Then there is the possibility of PILOT agreements. At some point one has to begin to wonder how one group of connected developers can build so much, with so little skin in the game. The Aquarium, VW, Downtown - these were all supposed to be catalysts to allow future development to grow organically. Kind of like a pushing off point. It is senseless to subsidize every new large development that comes down the pike. Other communities have finally learned how to, "Just say no." We need to learn from them.

January 3, 2014 at 8:19 p.m.
soakya said...

someone needs to go to prison when VW packs up and Wacker closes it doors. Start with the local politicians, work up to state representatives and lets not forget the driving force behind all this madness, those at the chamber of commerce.

January 4, 2014 at 12:28 a.m.
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