I have previously written a history of one of Chattanooga’s most prestigious and historical treasures - the Hotel Patten.
Once recognized as a jewel hotel in the South, it continues to deteriorate and under its federal subsidy program for lower income persons will probably face the wrecking ball unless some drastic and enormous measures are taken by private investors that believe in historical preservation.
The out of town owners have done a minimum of upgrades or even preserving the status quo.
Atlanta preserved its Fox, Birmingham its Tutwiler Hotel image at a new location, Nashville still has its Hermitage, the Peabody in Memphis has had its moments but all have survived and become big assets to their respective communities.
The Read House is a shining example of what private investors can do if they believe in maintaining a historical preserve in downtown Chattanooga.
Our city has many prominent foundations and many wealthy individuals that could make it happen. The combination of “old money’ and “new money” could pull it off and become another development anchor for the east side of Market Street and the downtown area.
Who can be the next Jack Lupton, Max Finley or Frank Burke that took the steps to renovate both the Northshore or the Southside?
Yes, a big undertaking but Chattanooga was created by risk takers willing to gamble on a small idea such as Coca Cola, Krystals and Moon Pies.
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There are two buildings in the city limits that I think should be saved before the Hotel Patten project is started downtown. The first would be someone purchasing the Senter School on Holtzclaw Avenue and repurposing it for use as an upscale condo building for professionals, complete with charging stations for electric vehicles. The useless run down grocery store adjacent to it could be transformed into a lively craft beer location, so the new residents could traverse back and forth freely, without hailing an Uber.
The other project would provide a vibrant "in-city" atmosphere, and should draw plenty of young people from around the country. This would be the transformation of the 11th Street "old produce area" into a live-work-play neighborhood for tech workers, young parents and obviously, more professionals. They could reduce the police presence there by eliminating the station, thus making it a "safe space."
Okay, don't everyone who just moved here from somewhere else and wants to change our town into whatever your vision is get your hopes up. The more astute reader may have cracked a smile over my sarcasm. My point is that the tenants at the Hotel Patten are part of the fabric of downtown. Moving into the next century does not mean moving out a part of society you don't want around. Where are they going to go?
You can't dehumanize your issue, Jerry. Lower income people have lived in that building for decades. They are not "homeless'.
There is a trend developing downtown and elsewhere in our city that I find disturbing. Panhandlers, street people, and bums are camping in and around the city. These are not "homeless people." This new group is not the gentle vagabond of yor. We have "professional" street people who have made this their way of life. They have bicycles and cell phones, and keep dogs too. What about them?
Perhaps transients and other street people should be required to purchase a "City ID license", so they can show that we have them on file. Perhaps the CARTA meter reader employees can issue them tickets if they are non compliant, and we could have a win win story. Hey sorry, there I go again trying to inject humor into a situation that seems to be a hands-off one here.
The city planners working in the back of the Alstom building need to provide an answer to these issues of low income housing and vagrants. The planners have been working on changing the city since the early nineties. They have plans for other cities too. Surely they can find housing for true low income people downtown.
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The purchase of this property with promises to keep it an affordable living residence once remodeled is great PR but will it actually happen after current residents are temporarily rehoused while renovation is in progress?
This temporary rehousing of the current residents who have lived there for years in less than desirable conditions due to the age of the building and aging infrastructure disturbs me, as no one was held accountable to keep it up to code - until now when there are new owners. That’s a huge undertaking by the new owners.
Even though the PR in the news claims that there will be many units in the affordable housing category after renovation and the residents can move back in, I foresee the renovation taking a while and as time passes, development loans are renegotiated...I’m guessing the residential rate structure will be renegotiated as well. I am positive that the affordable rates set post renovation are not affordable for the “current” residents without some subsidies.
I have electrician friends who years ago talked about the frightening state of the electrical infrastructure and the repeated “patching” repairs vs. actual renovation necessary. I’m sure the HVAC, plumbing, fire system, etc. will all require substantial overhaul and financial investment to meet code.
Investing this much into the renovation of a historical property (even with PILOT and TIFs) and keeping it at affordable housing residential rates doesn’t seem viable.
Without community investment - paying attention as well as financial - we’ll probably have another story of community outrage once the renovated property debuts...Unless...
If given the chance, many Chattanoogans, like me, would contribute to a fund with the sole purpose of subsidizing or covering the additional costs of rent from what the “current” residents currently pay (most from their pension) to the “affordable” rent post renovation. Many small contributions can add up. The fund would only cover the difference between what “current” residents paid monthly when displaced and the new rental rate. The fund should only be available to current residents who are moved out for remodeling as long as they wish to live there.
If one of our reputable foundations - Footprints, Maclellan, Benwood, etc. - would establish and oversee management of the fund, I feel it would be managed ethically and directed for this sole purpose. I’m sure many others would feel confident in donating/contributing to this project in their care.
Every donation (large or small) could help the residents, who can return, live out the rest of their lives in safe conditions, within the downtown community in which they’ve lived for years.
The fund would support the new owners/developers in keeping their commitment to the current tenants and show our appreciation for their major investment to restore and preserve a local landmark. With our contribution to helping the current tenants, the developer can honor their financial commitments without displacing a group of human beings who have contributed to the Chattanooga economy and are a part of our downtown fabric.
Rather than sit back and shout “Gentrification” let’s work together to restore our heritage without taking advantage of human beings in their retirement years.
I’ve actually proposed this idea to Causeway (a project like this is no longer within their immediate mission goals).
I’ve mentioned it in an email to city council members (no reply to that, but in their defense, they had more immediate priorities).
I’m hoping this opinion piece will spark an idea with those who are much more connected than me, they can open a dialog, and tap the right resources. Just maybe together we can rewrite the gentrification narrative, truly be inclusive as we encourage revitalization.