Roy Exum: Quit Embarrassing Us

Sunday, December 9, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Ever since I got word that a new Publix grocery store will be built on South Broad Street I have been excited. And every time our city Zoning Appeals Board seemingly does everything within its power to kill the project it is increasingly an embarrassment, a kerfuffle that has no logical explanation and sadly kowtows to a small minority that is flat-out wrong.

On Wednesday the Zoning Appeals Board, which had denied the project a month earlier, voted 5-3 to rehear the case. Surprise, surprise. Not 48 hours later, the Chazen family announced it will build a mixed-use development not six blocks away from the store site that will include 400 more residential units and spark further life into a blighted area that will become so very dazzling when all is said and done. I can guarantee those who embarrass us today on our Southside will be the embarrassed of tomorrow.

I cannot speak for those who oppose the renewal of South Broad Street but I can say that Ann Weeks, Mike Harrell, Jack Webb, and a host of other unheralded visionaries appear to be on the verge of pulling a huge rabbit out of the hat. What is puzzling to me is that when change is not only needed but is clearly for the public good, why more don’t embrace it and join in what our overall community needs the most: our encouragement.

One of my favorite parables in life is about the broken popcorn machine. Only we elders will remember back to a time when vending machines included a popcorn maker. You would take this little sack, put it under the chute, and insert the coin. The “come on” gimmick was a little round glass window where the popped corn would swirl and many a boy has become mesmerized by “how does it do that?”

The parable was born when a lady took her son to the carnival and he spied a popcorn machine. So his mom gives him a coin, he races down, sets his little sack under the chute, slips in the coin and … nothing. His mom comes and puts another coin into the machine. Zero. Nada. No popcorn. The kid begins to cry.

He can see the popcorn. He can smell it. He anticipates the taste. The boy did everything he could. He did it right. Isn’t there something that can be done? His mother explains that only the popcorn repair man can get the popcorn out when he fixes the machine. “But I can see it, I know it’s there!” he cried as he was taught instead that sometimes no matter what we do, even when the solution is so obvious and the popcorn warm against the round glass, the best plans go awry and we don’t get what we want.

Joe Graham, when he was on the County Commission, worked countless hours to fix the worst traffic snag in Hamilton County. There are two railroad underpasses on Cummings Highway – a major entranceway into Chattanooga – that narrow to one lane in each direction. When there is an accident on I-24, I have seen traffic blocked for hours. There are plans to widen both underpasses and the South Chattanooga renewal could accelerate the desperately needed updates.

The grocery store puzzle in south Chattanooga is just as bad. There is one Food City store on South Broad, and it does a great job but outside of the Walmart in Tiftonia, any other supermarket is miles away. A large townhouse community has already been completed near the river where Scholtz Tannery was for years and at least four other large residential communities well underway on the Broad Street corridor promise the biggest influx of new faces that the area has ever witnessed.

Chattanooga Christian School is experiencing rapid growth and Calvary Chapel, such a thriving church there are now multiple services on Saturday and Sunday, have been catalysts for the renewed interest in South Broad. The much bigger picture is realized when the imminent development of the foundry sites blends into the South Broad projects and – to the north – the former Alstom properties along the river.

Publix now has several thriving stores in Chattanooga and, despite the Zoning Appeals Board’s repeated stumbling, the Florida-based chain is interested in adding other stores in the community.

Chattanooga’s growth has rocketed in the north end of the county – Collegedale and Ooltewah – and now the spread is at Middle Valley and up the North Highway 27 area, easily spanning from Red Bank into Soddy Daisy.

That means more residential units, which means more grocery stores, which means more jobs, which means a plethora of drug stores, professional services, ball fields, happy kids, high school All-Americans, Baptist churches, National Merit Semifinalists, better (and safer) roads, more opportunities on every marker of a compass, and – let’s be real candid – a vision that our Zoning Appeals Board can’t quite seem to get its arms around in its year of confusion. (“Uh, how many window openings does the thing need?”)

The reality is the same it was 50, 25, or 10 years ago. Our future is now. We must nurture it.

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