published Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Closing of Eastgate center brings angry seniors to Chattanooga City Council

OTHER COUNCIL BUSINESS

• Council passed the final reading of the nearly $97 million fiscal 2015 capital budget that will go to projects such as the demolition of the former Harriet Tubman public housing site, fixing the Walnut Street Bridge and building a protected bike lane on Broad Street.

• Council approved the mayor's office pick of Hope for the Inner City as the new face of the community outreach piece of the Chattanooga Violence Reduction Initiative.

For many seniors, the Eastgate Senior Center has been a place of refuge to heal from a lost spouse or a place to get time away from grandchildren they're helping to raise. A place for friendship, a haven.

Yet when those seniors heard the city would no longer use the site at Eastgate Town Center and they would be evicted July 31, more than 50 peopled filled the City Council meeting on Tuesday night to send a message loud and clear: they felt abandoned.

"The City Council let us down because they didn't do anything and now they're doing all this at the 11th hour," said Connie Griggs. And so did the mayor's office she said: "They chose to ignore us."

But city officials say there has been miscommunication. For the last 18 years, the senior center has been housed at the town center rent-free for the city and many of the programs there have been funded through state and federal grants. The city has only paid for utilities.

But on June 4, the mayor's office Chief Operating Officer Brent Goldberg said the city was given a notice that they would be charged $11,000 in rent plus pay utilities. That's when the city began to finalize an alternative plan to build a new community center in the Brainerd area geared toward adults and senior citizens, a plan that was funded for $1 million in the 2015 capital budget.

Goldberg couldn't give a timeline for when the center would be finished.

But in the meantime, the seniors will be allowed to use the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center's multipurpose room on a temporary basis, Goldberg said.

Yet David Goddard, acting general manager since April 15 at Eastgate Town Center, said the city didn't request to stay in their same building, they asked for a new, larger space.

"We did not ask them to leave. They just gave us notice," Goddard said. "They did not come back and attempt to negotiate on the existing space."

Golberg said city officials met with the senior center's advisory board to find a solution after they found out that new management was going to start charging rent. And the board only asked for two things: that a new center be close to a bus line and it had to stay in Brainerd.

Councilwoman Carol Berz said she was surprised by the angry responses from the group and thought the city was working toward a solution. During the meeting, she and several other City Council members chided the seniors for what they called threatening the council to take action.

Yet seniors said they didn't understand the council's reaction when they only referred to themselves as "taxpayers and voters" who just wanted a voice and felt like they were kept in the dark.

"I just want a place for us to meet for my tax dollars. I can't use things like the Riverwalk and just want a space where we can meet," said Patricia Young, who started going to the center after her husband died.

In response, Berz charged Goldberg to come back to the City Council by next Tuesday with a plan to meet with the seniors and find a more workable solution.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.

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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