Downtown Chamber Council Works to Improve the Business Community

By Julie Alcantara

“I wish we had more street lighting.”

“Did you see the new art mural? I’d like one near my business.”

“What can be done about panhandlers?”

These are some of the thoughts local business members share at our monthly meetings. Hearing these sparked an idea to hold a series of meetings called Coffee with the Council. The goal? To bring stakeholders in the downtown area together to discuss problems facing the area, and work to formulate solutions to help benefit business. This was directly in line with our vision statement and board members offered their full support. Our vision is to have all stakeholders within our footprint, which includes businesses, nonprofits, education and government organizations and residents, engaged in the community and working together to enjoy a better quality of life.  We had no idea this would span over a four-year period. 

The Downtown Council has been working hard to improve the business community under the leadership of their recent Presidents:

Joey Greer, EPB, 2016-17

Lesley Berryhill, Chambliss Center for Children, 2017-18

Jeana Lee, United Way, 2018-19

Amy Donahue, River City Company, 2019-20

Three Coffee with the Council meetings held during the fall of 2016 and 2017 drew more than 100 members' participation. We listened to the concerns of businesses in our footprint, which includes the area from Main Street and Central Avenue to Chattanooga's stunning Riverfront. In the final meeting, we took those ideas and worked to refine them into tangible projects the Downtown Council could tackle. The two main areas the local business community wanted to focus on were increased police presence (via volunteer ambassadors) and art in unused spaces and more art murals.

The Board met again and decided in order to do an excellent job, we needed to focus on one item to move forward and chose the police ambassador program. 

After discussions with the City of Chattanooga Police Department and the Chamber, we realized this task was too large for our Council to tackle alone and we needed to partner with others in the community.

At the same time, River City Company had engaged BID experts on a Business Improvement District (BID) Feasibility Study.

“What is a BID?” 

I’m glad you asked.

A BID is a self-imposed, self-governed tax assessment used to pay for additional projects or services within district boundaries. Only the property owners within the boundaries pay this additional assessment, and can use it for services such as enhanced security, ambassadors, litter pickup, pedestrian enhancements, beautification elements like flowering baskets or numerous other improvements the businesses in that area decide to use the additional funds for.

Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis already have BIDs operating in their downtown areas. 

The next monthly Council meeting will be March 7 at 7:30 a.m. at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center at 200 E MLK Blvd. Our guest speaker will be Brad Segal, Senior Associate with PUMA, Progressive Urban Management Associates, from Denver, Colorado. He is the lead consultant on the feasibility study for the BID here in Chattanooga.

Downtown Council meetings are open to the public, cost $15 to attend and payment is at the door.