Eleven months after Mayor Andy Berke stood on the eroded tennis court at Lincoln Park and promised the land under his feet would once again be a city park, Chattanooga officials took the first step to make it happen.
The City Council voted Tuesday to swap Erlanger Health System an eight-acre tract of land in Alton Park for a proposed health center. In return, the hospital authority is supposed to give five acres it owns in the historic black park to the city, but the property hasn't been handed over.
Erlanger officials said they were surprised by Tuesday's vote and couldn't give a time line for their part of the exchange.
Hospital CEO Kevin Spiegel said Tuesday the hospital is still trying to work out details with the city about how the transfer will occur.
"[The deal] is already approved by our board. We just need more details from the city," said Spiegel. "Truthfully, we haven't met to determine out how exactly this is going to happen."
City officials said there's a delay involving an environmental study of the best route for the Central Avenue extension that will run parallel to the park.
Last year, the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association fought to keep the Central Avenue extension from Third street to Riverside Drive -- opening a long-envisioned direct highway route to the hospital-- from cutting through the former park.
The now-dilapidated land once boasted a pool, amusement park and zoo for the African-American neighborhood during the days of segregation. The park also hosted Negro League baseball games where players such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige played.
Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association secretary Tiffany Rankins said the first part of the swap is a good sign that the city is following through with its promise, but she said the residents are still in the dark.
Late last year, residents filed a complaint that the city violated a section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding them from the planning process. That complaint is still pending, Rankins said.
Transportation Director Blythe Bailey said that later this month, residents will get an update on the road project, which still doesn't have a specific route.
This year's capital budget -- which the council passed on first reading Tuesday night -- includes $1.4 million for the Central Avenue extension. No funds have been allocated for the park.
The mayor's office said that once the park land is transferred to the cit,y the Trust for Public Land will work with the neighborhood to create what the community has envisioned.
Staff writer Kate Harrison contributed to this article.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.
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 ...