East Ridge Council Discusses City Website, Falling Motel Business

Friday, May 23, 2014 - by Gail Perry

A sales manager who represents several East Ridge motels and restaurants came to the city council meeting Thursday night asking for changes to be made to the city’s website. The site has links to the Chattanooga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Hamilton County and multiple attractions in the area as well as to Hamilton Place mall. Bill Brenemen claimed that is promoting Chattanooga not East Ridge.

Hotels and restaurants outside the city get business because of that and visitors do not support the stores in East Ridge, he claimed.

Citizens’ tax money should not be used to advertise another city he contended. There are no “reciprocal links” on those websites that lead back to East Ridge, he said. There is a link on the CCVB site that does direct readers to East Ridge but that link is paid for.

Councilman Marc Gravitt replied that the purpose of the website is to attract events to come to the city and the other information is about things people would like to know if they are planning to bring their family from out of town to an event at Camp Jordan. The website is a first step. Amanda Miller, city services administrative assistant, said when writing the content for the website the intent was to show how convenient East Ridge is to all these attractions. Camp Jordan is a “regional draw,” said City Manager Andrew Hyatt. Some of the things linked to are historical and recognizable such as Rock City and Ruby Falls.

Mr. Brenemen was unaware that the East Ridge site also has a “points map” of hotels, businesses, parks and other places of interest in the city for the purpose of promoting them. Each location can be clicked on to link with the business’s own website. It is the responsibility of each business to keep their site up to date.

There has been a significant drop in the rental of motel rooms this year compared to last, said Vice Mayor Jim Bethune and something is causing it, but the motels should figure out what the problem is. The whole problem is not the website, he said. One cause he suggested could be the cluster of extended stay motels where a lot of crime occurs, which are at the intersection of Ringgold Road and I-75. It is believed that drivers exit there, look around, get back on the interstate and leave.

Mayor Brent Lambert asked, “Why don’t we just ask the CCVB to add a link to us?” and he said that the wording on the website could be tweaked. “It’s lunacy to cut ties with the CCVB,” he said.

Mimi Lowrey addressed the council concerning the problem of extended stay motels. The city required work on one of the motels and that has been going on over six months. Because of the elapsed time the grandfathered status it had for allowing extended stays was lost. When that motel re-opens extended stays will not be allowed, it was stated. Ms. Lowrey said if restrictions are what stopped that problem, why not use the same on other businesses that cause trouble. Vice Mayor Bethune said, “We need to enforce what is on the books now.”

Ms. Lowrey also updated the council on "The Salad Patch.”  Money from a grant is being used to get the community garden started but she said donations of cane poles and especially donations of labor would be appreciated.

The financial report given by City Treasurer Thad Jablonski showed that 82 percent of the expected revenue for the year has come in. Expenditures are trending downward, he said, with 72 percent of the budgeted amount having been spent as of April 30. To date, revenue exceeds expenditures by $1.1 million.

On second reading, the council gave approval for the construction of a Verizon cell phone tower in the parking lot of a retirement center at 1405A Mack Smith Road.

A resolution was passed to apply for and accept the NRPA 2014 Building Better Communities Grant. This comes from the American Water Company for incorporating a natural playground to educate the public about the environment. The city chose to apply for $100,000 that will require no match. The water company does ask for community organizations to help build the park. Ms. Miller told the council that Hamilton County Water Quality and the Tennessee Aquarium’s education department have already signed up as sponsors.

Councilman Gravitt brought the matter of door-to-door peddlers to the attention of the council, asking for a way to regulate the way they operate. “This ordinance is about a mechanism to reduce crime,” he said. He often gets unsolicited offers to do work on his home and, when he asks to see a city permit, they go to the truck and drive away. He said this is often a tactic to see if someone is home or if a resident is elderly and can be taken advantage of.

He proposed the requirement that a city-issued permit be worn around the neck and presented when the door is opened. Another idea was to display identifying magnetic signs from the city on their car doors. City Attorney Hal North added that this would be to regulate those businesses and it is not intended to punish them. Small businesses are not the target, said Mr. Gravitt. “I’m trying to target the criminals that prey on our citizens.” Discussion of the matter ended with the decision for each councilman to review the ordinance dealing with such issues and to bring changes to the next council meeting.

A routine budget amendment was also approved which will authorize the transfer of money into the proper funds that will match spending with the revenue. This is a housekeeping amendment, said Mr. Jablonski, so East Ridge will be in compliance with the budget.

All citizens were urged to come to the city’s Memorial Day ceremony that will take place at Pioneer Frontier Park on Sunday at 1 p.m. The city’s fallen veterans will be honored and a presentation will be made of a drawing of the new Vietnam Veterans memorial that will be placed at city hall when completed.

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