John Shearer: Revamped Patten Square Reopens With Ribbon Cutting

Friday, July 23, 2021 - by John Shearer

Patten Parkway over the years has changed like Chattanooga has.


The rectangular site has been the scene of an old market house and city government building long gone, the area where Coca-Cola was first bottled locally in a side building, the scene of war memorial dedications, and even where Baby Boomers frequented nearby Yesterday’s bar.


Stagnant it has not been.


On Friday morning, a new evolution in the urban metamorphosis of the plaza was completed when ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held for the revamped space that also has a new name – Patten Square.


In the area where there were formerly grass, trees, stone walls and military memorials in the middle, the street – still named Patten Parkway – now runs, with parking on the central edge.

The outer ring, which was once where cars parked and circled through the open block, is now a much-wider sidewalk with plantings, new hardwood trees that will grow to maturity, and stone-style blocks for sitting.


And the featured attraction of the new plaza-like area is the Radiance Pavilion, a Marine stainless-steel sculpture featuring three vase-like and tall protrusions.


During the 10:30 a.m. ceremonies, Emily Mack, who moved from Indianapolis to become president and CEO of the non-profit River City Co. this year when recent mayoral candidate Kim White retired, cited the work of her predecessor and others in creating such a space. She also praised the public and private partnerships that helped fund and carry out the project.


“Today, as a community, we celebrate this reimagined public space in our city,” she said. “Because of these collaboration partnerships, our community now has a beautiful, engaging and vibrant public space for all Chattanoogans to experience with joy and to love.”


She said the idea for a new Patten Parkway area came out of a 2013 city center visioning development plan led by River City and others to create a vibrant and multi-purpose city center square that can occasionally be closed for events. A 2019 artistic plan enhanced the visioning, she added.


Mayor Tim Kelly also praised the public and private partnerships, saying 30 percent of the construction cost was provided by foundations and individuals, including $1 million from the Benwood Foundation. 


He also said the historic square should be a boon to Chattanooga. “This is a fixture in downtown Chattanooga that will serve us well for many years to come,” he said. 


Chattanooga Design Studio Executive Director Eric Myers called it another great space in Chattanooga, and he hopes it is the scene of many meaningful events.


“I hope this is the first day of many celebrations in this great public space we have,” he said. “For decades, the city and its leaders have gifted us with high level public spaces, and that should never be overlooked.”


He also praised the visioning of former Chattanooga Design Studio director Christian Rushing, who, before his death from gall bladder cancer in 2017 at the age of only 44, was involved in the original 2013 planning for the space and a newer-look Miller Park.  


“It’s an honor to have a moment like this to share with you Christian’s dedication and vision to improving high-level quality space in the core of our city that improve the quality of life for everyone,” he said.


Mr. Myers also praised the work of Frank Hughes and the Veterans Memorial Committee working to find a suitable location for the military markers that were in Patten Parkway until the redevelopment of the square began.


“I think it is safe to say that many of us before this project started did not know that the median that was in the middle of Patten Parkway held a memorial to over 600 Hamilton County residents who gave the ultimate sacrifice in World War II,” Mr. Myers said. “We now have the chance to not only have this space dedicated as a new public square, but the chance to reimagine a dignified, safe place for the war memorial to rest.”


Talk has surfaced of putting the military markers, including a Marine memorial, in a plaza near the Olgiati Bridge and Ross’s Landing.


Chattanooga public art director Kat Wright, the final speaker, read a statement from the designers of the Radiance sculpture, Jason Kelly Johnson and Nataly Gattegno from FUTUREFORMS in San Francisco. 


They said they were thrilled to be a part of the ongoing visioning and transformation of downtown and the innovation district, adding, “Patten Square has a rich history as a community crossroads. Radiance is a sculpture-shaped canopy that hopes to build on this legacy.”


They tried to describe the sculpture by saying it invites people to collectively play with shadows cast on the ground and to pause in the art piece’s shade for a conversation. And in the evenings, visitors to the square and sculpture can enjoy the unexpected play of patterned light and reflecting, they said.


At the FUTUREFORMS website, which features other sculptures of similar styles they have produced in other cities, the Radiance Pavilion is described as looking origami-like and creating a backdrop, a view, and providing light and shade.


It was installed by Range Products. Other firms and people mentioned as being involved in the design and development of the overall square were Matt Whitaker of WMWA landscaping, Allen Jones of ASA Engineering, and P&C Construction.


Others praised for helping were Jim Williamson of River City Co. and city of Chattanooga staff members Blythe Bailey and Greg Harold.


Credited with helping through private funds were the Benwood, Lyndhurst and Riverview foundations, former Sen. and Mrs. Bob Corker, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Lamp Post Properties, and the Z.C. Patten Fund.


Among the Patten family members seen attending were Cartter and Bryan Patten, the grandsons of Z.C. Patten. He was the man for whom the site was named in 1944 at the initiation of then-Mayor Ed Bass after the old market house/city government building was torn down in 1943 and some landscaping was done on the city-owned land.


The reopening of the square was to continue with music and festivities Friday evening beginning at 8. Featured entertainment was to include DJ SpinChilla.


* * * * *


To see a historical story written and pictures taken in 2019 as the former Patten Parkway was getting ready to close, read here.


* * * * *


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