Community benefits agreement on the table for Chattanooga’s South Broad District project

Chattanooga city officials want to ensure neighbors of a $79.5 million multi-purpose stadium project in the South Broad district experience revitalization alongside the long-destroyed property where the facility could soon rise.

“We want this revitalization to be something that happens with the neighborhood — not something that happens to the neighborhood,” Ellis Smith, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly’s director of special projects, said Friday in a phone interview.

To that end, Smith said Kelly asked staff to develop a community benefits agreement that would set expectations beyond those already included in the project. Smith thinks this could include three general elements: ensuring that local workers benefit from the growth in this area, that current residents are not excluded from the price of their homes, and that the money is spent on improving infrastructure.

But there are still a few steps to go before officials can finalize a document. Although it has won approval from the Hamilton County Commission, the project itself still needs to be approved by the Chattanooga City Council, which will address the proposal at its meeting on Tuesday. The action will include the decision to form a new sports authority which would issue bonds for the construction of the stadium and to draw up a special tax district of 470 acres to finance the project.

Using a tool called tax increment financing, a portion of new property tax revenue generated from development in the district would be used to pay off the bonds that fund construction of the stadium – which would span on approximately eight acres on the larger 141 acre former US Pipe/Wheland Foundry site.

Smith said the new sports authority could play a role in coordinating a community benefits agreement. The project’s lead developer, Jim Irwin, and the facility’s primary user, the Chattanooga Lookouts, could also be parties to this agreement, but it’s critical that the agreement include public comment, said Smith, who will would produce through a series of community meetings.

City leaders have already held a few, Smith said, and if council approves the project on Tuesday, staff would increase the frequency of those meetings. Smith said Irwin had also carried out similar revitalization efforts in devastated parts of other cities and prioritized engagement with nearby residents to help shape the site’s vision.

One organization pushing for a deal is the nonprofit group Chattanooga in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence.

Michael Gilliland, organizing director of CALEB, said the project is already having clear public benefits, citing the $40 million that city officials say would go to Hamilton County schools over 30 years if the development in the district reached a conservative estimate of $350 million. investment.

What is not necessarily guaranteed is that the communities most affected by a project like this will benefit from the same positive results.

“How do working-class people benefit from the kind of development that’s happening?” Gilliland said by phone Friday. “We want to make sure this is the best project possible and that it touches the community deeply to help uplift the community as a whole.”

Gilliland sees the potential for two specific agreements: one for the stadium site itself which would be linked to the lease with the Chattanooga Lookouts and another with the main developer which could define commitments for affordable housing, ethical contracts, living wages and partnerships with the Howard Institutes Future Ready school.

The benefit of a community benefits agreement, Gilliland said, is that it details expectations in a written contract between a developer and a community coalition and includes transparency, oversight and review to help ensure that these promises are coming to fruition.

On the affordable housing front, Gilliland said it might be possible for officials to set aside a certain number of acres or units for people of different income levels.

He added that the mayor’s office has made it clear that the administration is placing a high priority on ensuring affordable housing is part of this project, which Gilliland says could be achieved by reinvesting funding from capital increases. excess taxes or by developing a community land trust for the expanded district. .

Irwin and Lookouts owner-manager Jason Freier did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Smith said the project already had innate benefits. The multi-purpose stadium will be a public facility that will provide regular recreational opportunities whether or not there is a baseball game.

The special tax district developed to fund the project would also support the completion of the Alton Park Connector, which will provide a walkable greenway extending from Southside Community Park to the Wheland Foundry trailhead of the Tennessee Riverwalk.

“This stadium will be a jewel in Chattanooga’s crown,” Smith said. “People coming around the bend will no longer have to stare at an apocalyptic wasteland.”

Instead, Smith said, they’ll be able to watch baseball, relax in a beer garden, enjoy the Riverwalk or stroll the Alton Park Connector.

“All of those things are benefits,” Smith said, “but the community benefits agreement will define specific benefits for that community that go beyond that.”

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

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