Chattanooga, Knoxville downtowns thriving

Redevelopment rivalry between Chattanooga and Knoxville benefited both cities

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The Tennessee Aquarium is a big draw to downtown Chattanooga. The Tennessee Aquarium is a big draw to downtown Chattanooga.
This pedestrian bridge connects downtown Chattanooga with the North Shore. This pedestrian bridge connects downtown Chattanooga with the North Shore.
"There's a tremendous number of young ideas, young business people looking to grow as entrepreneurs and you're already in an environment where everyone scratches each other's backs. Everyone's helping each other," Tejani said. "There's a tremendous number of young ideas, young business people looking to grow as entrepreneurs and you're already in an environment where everyone scratches each other's backs. Everyone's helping each other," Tejani said.
The once deserted Market Square now bustles on warm Knoxville nights. The once deserted Market Square now bustles on warm Knoxville nights.
"Knoxville talked about a lot of big things, but when it started happening, it was organic. It was a lot of little thing coming together," said writer and historian Jack Neely. "Knoxville talked about a lot of big things, but when it started happening, it was organic. It was a lot of little thing coming together," said writer and historian Jack Neely.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - In 1969, legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite declared that Chattanooga was the dirtiest city in America.

That designation spurred Chattanooga to clean up its act.

And over the past 40 years, it certainly has, so much so that Knoxville, for many of those years, was left in its dust.

But where is Knoxville in that competition today?

For the past 20 years, Chattanooga seemed to be taking the lead.

The Scenic City seemed to have everything Knoxville did not: a vibrant downtown spurred by the Aquarium and Imax Theater, a riverfront with its pedestrian bridge, a mecca of activity, and along its borders, miles of greenways and bike trails.

Shalin Tejani, the CFO of a plastics manufacturing company, recently opened a ribbon factory.

He is an example, we're told, of the stock of young entrepreneurs filling the city.

"There's a tremendous number of young ideas, young business people looking to grow as entrepreneurs and you're already in an environment where everyone scratches each other's backs. Everyone's helping each other. The free flow of ideas is tremendous," Tejani said. "We are a city full of energy."

Over the past decade or so, Chattanooga has made a lot of best lists - Best City to Live, Most Affordable, Best Place to be an Entrepreneur, which, when you think about it, is pretty important, because entrepreneurs means business and that means jobs.

"It didn't take too long as the renaissance of downtown began to emerge that you began to see younger people moving back to the city, other young people moving here from other places, and there began to be a new spirit, new excitement, a new enthusiasm when you walk around Chattanooga today and talk to people. Everybody is excited about their city," said writer Dean Arnold.

Arnold, author of Old Money, New South, the Spirit of Chattanooga, suggests that youth may be driving Chattanooga's current growth, but it was Chattanooga's elite old money that started it.

"There was an old Southern aristocracy group of elite leaders that really wanted to see this city turn around and so they pooled their resources and put their foundation money together and started working with the rest of the community and a lot of things happened," Arnold said.

And it's still happening.

"I think the next step is figuring out, 'OK, we've come this far. We came up with this plan and really succeeded and that goes to the all the hard work put into it. So now what do we do?' What's this next generation going to do and how are we going to continue to grow the city. Or at least nurture what we have?" Tejani said.

So that's Chattanooga, but what about Knoxville?     
      
Well, it turns out the rivalry did finally benefit the city. Knoxville, like Chattanooga, did a visioning plan and the result was a renewed effort to bring back downtown.

A visit to Market Square just about any warm evening will attest to the success of that effort.

"The new restaurants have brought us down and the exciting atmosphere down here with all the different events," said local Richard Birchfield.

"I like it because it's so festive and there's a lot of people and it's easy for us to bring our baby," Akiko Birchfield said.

And it wasn't an aquarium or big idea that got it going.
      
"Knoxville talked about a lot of big things, but when it started happening, it was organic. It was a lot of little thing coming together," said writer and historian Jack Neely.

Neely loves Knoxville's downtown.

"There are a lot of things that Chattanooga did first, but we're doing it better now," Neely said.
 
The truth is, the two communities both have a lot going for them.

Knoxville is about 8 percent less expensive to live in than Chattanooga.

But Chattanooga has a higher per capita income at $19,689 per year, compared to Knoxville's $18,171.

If you're looking for a glaring difference, it's in the area of job growth. Between 2000 and 2009, Chattanooga's job growth tracked at 13.25 percent. Knoxville's job market grew by 3.3 percent.

But I will give Knoxville one edge - only we have Neyland Stadium. And when the Big Orange is winning, there is no better place to be than Knoxville.

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