Governor Lee is offering $725,700 to help River City purchase state-owned easements near the Tennessee River

NASHVILLE — Governor Bill Lee has included a $725,700 grant to help Chattanooga officials secure downtown Tennessee Riverfront property, seen as key to building on the area’s past successes, promoting a further development and attracting more people to the thriving region.

The grant is a one-time component of a $2.66 billion amendment the governor unveiled last week, which he hopes lawmakers will include in his originally proposed $52.6 billion budget. His amendment also provides funding for dozens of programs and projects across the state, including a $500 million grant to help Tennessee Titans owners build a new indoor football stadium.

Chattanooga officials hope to combine the state’s $725,700 share and a $725,759 share provided by the city and the nonprofit River City Co. to help pay the Tennessee Department of Transportation 1 $.45 million for easements on three parcels owned by the city, River City Co. and the Chattanooga Downtown Redevelopment Corp.

The property, along Riverfront Parkway with part under the Olgiati Bridge, is now used as a parking lot. The plots were part of a series of city-state land exchanges dating back years. The packages included part of the old National Route 58, which was rerouted. But the State remains the owner of the easements. There is a deed restriction that the property must be owned by a public entity or serve a public purpose, as federal money was included in the construction of Highway 58.

In his January 5 letter requesting the money, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly told Lee that securing the funds would allow the property to be used to “its best and best use” during a future redevelopment.

Emily Mack, president and CEO of River City Co., said in a statement to The Times Free Press last week that she was grateful for the inclusion of waterfront funds in Lee’s amended budget.

If the proposed amendment with the provision passes as part of Lee’s annual spending plan, River City Co. and the City of Chattanooga will continue with the steps outlined in the waterfront planning process, Mack said.

“We are grateful for the more than 2,300 comments we received from the community during the visualization process and will continue to receive community comments as we move forward with the plan, Mack said.

Concerns have been raised by some groups, including Friends of the Hooch, which runs Head of the Hooch, the annual two-day rowing regatta held on the Tennessee River each year during the first full weekend in November. Hooch executives wonder if River City’s possible use of the parking lot for development could cause issues with rowing hulls, oars, spectator and athlete parking, and river access.

Other major draws like Ironman competitions and the Riverbend Festival could also be affected, the letter says.

Mack told the Times Free Press in a telephone interview in February that there were no proposals to develop the batch, and that such use is expected in at least five years. The idea for a mixed-use, mixed-income development came from residents who expressed during the planning process a desire for more places to live and socialize in the waterfront neighborhood, she said. declared.

While the surface terrain may present a “potential opportunity”, Mack said, she also stressed that attracting and retaining iconic events such as the Regatta and the Riverbend Festival remains a priority and “a priority for us”.

She said the state’s financial assistance to remove deed restrictions on parking is the first step in a long series, providing enough time to work with organizers and others who use this space to s to ensure “that they can continue to organize incredible events by the river”. as well as the development of a long-term plan for the site.”

If the money doesn’t arrive, River City Co., the nonprofit created in 1986 to help redevelop and revitalize downtown Chattanooga, still owes the state nearly $260,000. in parking revenue over the years.

“I think River City was getting parking revenue that they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be getting revenue from,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said at the Times Free Press last week in an interview. outside the Senate Chamber. “And so they had to pay back that income, it was just a mistake they made.

“And then there’s a property there that they’d like to use, and the funding is in the budget for that. But there’s still talk about it,” Watson said.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has previously raised concerns about the parking lot development, citing a limited number of parking spaces in the area and whether any property can actually be used for development, such as homes or companies. He told the Times Free Press in February that taking the land at Riverfront Parkway and Power Alley and possibly giving it to a developer to build something like condominiums would be “a disservice to the city’s tourism industry.”

Efforts to reach Gardenhire to discuss his final thoughts on the project and Lee’s proposed $725,700 grant failed late last week.

The issues over River City Co. getting parking revenue started long before Mack took over as the nonprofit group’s helm in late 2020.

Mack said in a phone interview Friday that River City Co. would repay the estimated $260,000 it had received in parking revenue in the past.

There remains the problem of the plots making up the car park.

Under the agreement, River City Co. would provide $355,473 for the fair market for the easement. The City of Chattanooga would put $370,276.50 as its share for a total of $725,749.50. Lee’s disposition, if approved, would provide an additional $725,670.50, bringing the total payment to TDOT for the easement to $1,451,420.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

Mike Pare contributed to this report.