History Center Announces 2011 History Makers Award Honorees

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Chattanooga History Center announced that it will honor Chattanooga Venture and Vision 2000 with its 6th Annual History Makers Award. The award recognizes local individuals or groups who have made significant contributions to Chattanooga, the region, the state, or the country.

As the History Center honors the process which changed the face of downtown Chattanooga, it will acknowledge those who organized Venture, as well as those who participated in the Vision 2000 process, at a luncheon from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Mai Bell Hurley, first chairperson of Venture, and Ron Littlefield, its first executive director, will accept the award, an original sculpture by Cessna Decosimo. This event is the History Center’s major fund raiser of the year. Table sponsorships and individual tickets are available. For information, call 265-3742, ext. 17 or 10.

Chattanooga’s rise from dirty, de-industrialized depression to one of America’s most desirable and livable cities is one of the most interesting stories in a history packed with interesting stories. The Chattanooga History Center will honor the central characters in that story, Chattanooga Venture and Vision 2000, with its 2011 History Makers Award.

This year’s honoree is arguably the most successful process in the country’s experience for the employment of community engagement to effect fundamental changes in the way a community views itself and establishes goals for its future. The 2011 Award acknowledges all those who organized and implemented Venture and all those who participated in the Vision 2000 process.

Chattanooga Venture was launched in 1983 by group of local citizens who took their cues from the Moccasin Bend Task Force, which had held public “visioning meetings”, and the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, which had invited people from different municipal communities to come together to talk about their city’s future. Inclusion was the top priority.

The first Venture chairperson, Mai Bell Hurley, said, “We could develop the best plans in the world, but nothing would happen unless there was broad-based community support for implementing those plans.”

The original Venture board, which began meeting at the Urban Design Studio on Vine Street, had a 60-member board created by Mai Bell Hurley, Bob Seals, Tome Hebert, and Rick Montague, and approved by County Mayor Dalton Roberts and City Mayor Gene Roberts.

“The only charge the mayor gave the Chattanooga Venture board was to look beyond their own agendas, and come up with ideas and recommendations that were in the best interests of the community as a whole,” said Mayor Littlefield, who became Venture’s first executive director.

Chattanooga Venture undertook a massive “visioning process,” committed to bringing in as many Chattanoogans as possible to build an active planning agenda. The high-profile project was funded by the Lyndhurst Foundation and led by Gianni Longo, an urban strategist and environmental activist.

In September 1984, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hosted a mass meeting. Several Task Forces were created and Vision 2000 was in motion.

Meeting participants focused on two questions: “What gives Chattanooga a unique sense of place?” and “What do we want Chattanooga to look like in 2000?” Small groups were formed to explore the questions from different perspectives: Future Alternatives, People, Place, Work, Play, and Government. The process was big. More than 1,700 people participated in meetings held all across the city.

The results were exciting; they changed the way Chattanoogans looked at decision-making in the city, officials said. “For a long time in Chattanooga,” Pat Wilcox said, “there was the idea that the people with the money and power controlled everything. We needed to break out of that shell, and we did.”

By the end, participants had created 40 goal statements. They had also identified specific projects that would help achieve each goal. Some of the objectives were specific such as “develop a major outdoor, multipurpose sports facility” or “identify the location and create a management organization related to the development of Bessie Smith Preservation Hall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.”

Others were more general, such as “reinforce Chattanooga’s role as a center for small conventions and family tourism” or “develop a coordinated, economically sound, public/private transportation system.”

Officials said, "Because Chattanooga Venture, through the Vision 2000 process, marshaled the support of governments, businesses, philanthropists, and citizens, most of the objectives were realized, dramatically changing the direction of Chattanooga as it moved into the 21st century. Venture continues to impact our city, and serves as a model for revitalization projects around the globe."

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