CHATTANOOGA — A delegation of more than 120 Tuscaloosa civic leaders, businesspeople, chamber and tourism officials, artists, arts advocates and media visited another river city, seeking inspiration from and information about downtown Chattanooga, an example of how combined private, public and community efforts can transform an area.
And it only took 50 years, billions of dollars, an alphabet soup of groups, agencies and concerned citizens to turn what was once deemed the dirtiest air in the country into some of the most desirable, livable, diverse and culturally creative atmospheres in the U.S.
While the 1992 Tennessee Aquarium now seems an obvious winner, it took selling, back in the day said Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co. Naysayers were profuse: “No one was going to come see catfish,” she said. But once they “started moving dirt,” people began to believe.
Between the aquarium, which more than doubled expectations in its first year, to the now 13-mile riverwalk, the pedestrian bridge — like the city’s living room, she said: “You see everyone on that bridge” — Hunter Museum of American Art, profusion of public sculptures and murals to a plethora of new construction and repurposed warehouses and factories, the city once known as “The Dynamo of Dixie” has made massive strides, but it’s an ongoing work, White said.
And success breeds success.There’s been more than $5 billion of private investment just in the past three years, she said. Still, that wouldn’t happen without agencies such as hers.
“Unless someone is focused on it, it just doesn’t get done.”
Crucial also is that innovations have been designed for and by residents first, lofting overall quality of life, and by that attracting more business and creative energy. Tourism follows, helping fund further growth.
“That’s how we make locals forever,” said Molly Blankenship, vice president of talent initiatives for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
Cities such as Tuscaloosa,…
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