Last week a team of local investors led by Jimmy White and Chuck Chitty closed on the purchase of the Edney Building. This was 114 days after Mayor Berke and Mayor Coppinger announced the creation of the Chattanooga Innovation District and a year after Mayor Berke’s Chattanooga Forward launched a new mission and board of directors for the Enterprise Center.
One hundred and fourteen days is less than the blink of an eye in the life of a city, or of a downtown. With the creation of Chattanooga’s first Innovation District and first Innovation Center at the top of my to-do list, those days seemed a lifetime. But in a way now our work just begins.
The Innovation Center was never meant to be an end in itself, but to be a multifaceted pump-primer for efforts already underway to take the Chattanooga economy to unprecedented levels of innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital equity. A building most people never noticed will become a vibrant emblem of Chattanooga’s next bold steps into the 21st century. A new public entry and actively programmed space will open on the Market Street side, with the rest of the first floor becoming the new home of CO.LAB with all its entrepreneurial magic. There will be floors of co-working space for small and new ventures, and community serving areas programmed for collisions of people and ideas, for problem solving and for socializing. And so we don’t lose sight of the grandeur of the city around us, roof-top gathering space.
The Innovation Center is designed to be a front door to Chattanooga’s Innovation District – 140 acres of dense walkable urban core with economy shaping, place making and social networking assets geared to build the city’s 21st century knowledge-based economy. These assets, and the collision places and spaces that bring them together are literally building blocks of the future.
Our Innovation District already contains drivers of the innovation economy that are the envy of cities all over the U.S., EPB and its smart grid and gig fiber deployment, the Lamp Post Group entrepreneurial venture incubator and accelerator, a rapidly growing array of start-up businesses, our innovative Public Library, Swiftwing Ventures, and UTC. This fall CO.LAB, the non-profit entrepreneur ecosystem nerve center will move into the Innovation District. And all of this in a setting of great public spaces, housing options, coffee shops, arts and culture, and entertainment.
Have the stakeholders in the Innovation District been holding their breath in the last 114 days? Far from it! But there is only space here to mention a few of the important happenings recently:
· Cherry Street Redevelopment – Fidelity Trust, a long-time City Center property owner, attracted IT company H & D Corporation to newly renovated second floor space at 7th and Market Streets, the first of what will be over 30,000 square feet of space in the district focused on innovation economy businesses.
· Warehouse Row announced expansion of existing innovation economy ventures and new ones and opened a new concept restaurant, Two-Ten Jack.
· The Miller Park District Planning Study is getting underway with the City’s selection of a team of nationally recognized designers for three key spaces in the district, Miller Park, Miller Plaza, and Patten Parkway.
· The Camp House opened in its new location on M.L. King Blvd. in the district, allowing for outdoor dining and event programming and larger live music events.
· Arts Build began renovating its new home on Eleventh Street in the district. Plans are to be open by the end of the summer. It will also be home to Townsend-Atelier and the Southern Literature Alliance, all new to the district.
· The Chattanooga Public Art program kicked off its largest mural project, engaging a nationally known mural artist and local artists to paint a multi-sided mural on the AT&T building on M.L. King Blvd. in the district.
· Work has begun on the Tomorrow Building, a unique housing concept in the former Ross Hotel at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Patten Parkway in the district. The 43 micro-apartment units are designed for entrepreneurs working on innovative projects. Each floor will have shared collaborative spaces and the ground floor is targeted for retail.
· The Chattanooga Public Library’s Gig Lab recently hosted the nation’s first cross country gigabit hackathon, with five cities creating gigabit apps of tomorrow in a three day non-stop internet connected event.
· UTC announced two new positions to more closely connect the University to Chattanooga’s innovation economy and district initiatives: Director of Community Engagement and Clinical Professor, and Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School.
· Causeway, Chattanooga’s social and civic idea incubator in the district launched its second Causeway Challenge, with up to five $10,000 awards for a four-month round of developing solutions for tough community problems.
And there is more to come in the Innovation District. Let’s see what the next 114 days brings!