Despite opposition to the project, the Industrial Development Board approved a plan to upgrade the west side of Martin Luther King Boulevard.
The multipurpose project includes roadway and infrastructure upgrades, as well as retail/restaurants and medical offices.
The city intends to fund the project with a tax increment financing plan, which is a method local governments use to pay for community improvements with future tax revenues. TIF redevelopments generally consist of clearing blight, promoting housing or other economic development, according to the state comptroller’s office.
Under the plan, developer Evergreen Real Estate would get a 15-year property tax break to extend the boulevard across part of its property to link the Blue Goose Hollow Trailhead and the Tennessee Riverwalk.
About 10 people came to Monday’s meeting to oppose the project’s funding method, which would allow the developer to use part of the money that would be owed in city and county taxes to pay for the construction loan on this development.
Resident Franklin McCallie said he has a problem using tax dollars to fund this project because the money could be used to help low-income residents.
“Let’s build this waterfront project without a TIF and give those saved funds to other projects critical to our citizens,” he said after quoting Mayor Andy Berke’s inaugural address, during which he said the city can’t succeed when there’s extreme wealth on one side and extreme poverty on another.
Boyce Station Neighborhood Association member Cora Lanier said she opposes the project because she doesn’t see a plan in place to deal with the “enormous inner-city blight.”
“I truly don’t believe that walking to the river is anywhere near the top of the list of desires for people who live in Westside projects,” she said. “They are more concerned with safe roadways to a nice nearby grocery store.”
Ultimately, the board OK’d the resolution in a 7–0 vote after member Jimmy Rogers asked that the language be changed to say “for consideration” instead of “for consideration and approval” because he was uncomfortable telling local government how to vote on this project.
Berke praised the board’s approval and said that TIF allows for transparent, equitable funding with maximum protection for taxpayers.
The Riverwalk’s Blue Goose Hollow Trailhead is one of the area’s most popular amenities, and extending MLK across Riverfront Parkway to the trailhead will have other economic benefits, Berke also said:
Today’s affirmative vote by the Industrial Development Board is a strong statement that the Chattanooga region continues to be a vibrant and welcoming market for capital investment, great jobs and smart, strategic real estate development …
This piece of public infrastructure will also unlock more than $50 million of private-sector investment to create additional housing and retail options along our riverfront. This project is poised to become another iconic destination and a major long-term asset to our economy.
The project goes before City Council’s Economic Development Committee Tuesday. It must pass that committee before moving to the City Council agenda.
If it’s approved, it’s slated to go before City Council Feb. 20 and before the County Commission Feb. 21.