Last month the River City Company held an urban design challenge for the Southside of Chattanooga that included the removal of the Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant from that area. The planner’s design was an audacious one that consisted of a 23 acre transformation of the surrounding properties that included an indoor arena to replace the McKenzie arena as well as mixed use developments. Greenways connecting Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo and downtown were included along with a light rail system. Needless to say this change would be a welcome one from an aesthetic and urban development standpoint.
One of the major obstacles to this or any other plan for Southside development is that Pilgrim's Pride has two processing plants in the area that provide jobs for 1,500 workers in Chattanooga, making them the 10th largest employer in the area. Pilgrim's Pride has no intentions of moving from the area any time soon, and I don't blame them a bit. They moved into the area when it made financial sense to do so. Chattanooga used to be a much more industrialized city than it is today, and that plant has been around as long as I can remember. Until the last decade or so the Southside of Chattanooga close to the riverfront was associated with industrial companies.
However, a lot has changed in recent years, and now the area surrounding these plants represents the best opportunity for further residential and commercial growth in Downtown Chattanooga. The chicken plant unfortunately stifles much of that growth with its foul odor. Now I love chicken, but the smell in that area is just unbearable on some days.
I would like to propose a compromise to resolve the impasse currently facing the planners. I believe that the city should incentivize the move with tax breaks and or a land swap that would allow Pilgrim’s Pride to incorporate both of the downtown plants into a single location that is more suitable for this type of industry. If the county and city were to offer a deal much like the one given to Volkswagen, where taxes are decreased over an extended period, then perhaps the owners could be enticed to make such a move. The cost of these incentives would most likely be offset by the amount of increased tax revenues that Chattanooga would reap from a revitalized Southside.
I have no idea what Pilgrim's Pride pays in property taxes or how much revenue the city could get from such a deal. Obviously an in-depth study would need to be conducted, but common sense tells me that this is a good idea. I mean how many times has a tourist stepped out of the Choo Choo or been at the Chattanooga Market only to turn up their noses at that deplorable stench? We have the power to make this mutually beneficial to all parties involved. I can’t think of a reason why this can’t happen.