Westside-Bend Tiff Puts Big Dollars at Risk

Gateway Towers (CNC Photos: G. F. Stoudemire)
College Hill Courts (CNC Photos: G. F. Stoudemire)

The Chattanooga City Council Agenda Session featured an extended presentation by Mayor Tim Kelly’s Office, Chattanooga Housing Authority, and representatives of both The Bend and the Westside Evolves Project as support is sought for a $135 million TIF, or Tax Increment Financing Agreement.

In this case, the proceedings of the session chaired by Chairwoman of the Economic Development Committee, Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, reflected a tiff of another kind revolving around the lack of current data answering the simple question, “How many current residents and which residents want to remain downtown during the reconstruction and how many current residents and which ones are willing to be relocated out of the urban core?”

The almost 90-minute meeting was packed with PowerPoint slides, various consultants and presenters, along with colorful comments first offered by City Council Chairwoman Raquetta Dotley who was recognized by Coonrod.

“I don’t appreciate this at all. This is ridiculous. I will not consider supporting any of this until I have actual numbers of those who would like to stay and how they will be phased into this project with one move,” declared the visibly frustrated representative for City Council District 7 which holds both projects–The Bend and the Westside Evolves proposals.

Chairman Dotley’s fiery response came after one of the consultants for the Westside project referenced “assumptions” based on 2020 survey data used to determine that as few as 10% but up to 35% of survey respondents wanted to remain downtown during the relocation efforts required for construction of replacement units and demolition of existing buildings. Dotley expressed exasperation that “there is $1.4 billion wrapped up in this and nobody from the Housing Authority has presented any numbers to show us about who wants to stay.”

Repeatedly, Council members agreed that the $135 million TIF agreement pursued is the literal linchpin that opens the door for a $50 million federal Choice Grant, $100 million in THDA housing tax credits, and refunds up to 50% of the infrastructure costs to the developer would not be possible if not for the inclusion of the Westside Evolves. Hence, scrutiny of the relocation of current residents of both College Hill Courts and the Gateway Towers, which must occur early in this multi-phase construction project, is justified.

After comments from Councilwoman Carol Berz that reflected her opinion that there is an appearance of gentrification and from Councilwoman Jenny Hill that warned all parties involved that the “urban renewal” of the 1950s and 60s which moved Black families out of their homes was not the result that would be supported to accommodate this project.

After a tense session, a new survey created by CHA should be in the field within days, according to the pledged of Director Elizabeth McCright.

Despite the contention, the obvious need for clear communication and data, as well as the concern by those with tremendous resources ready for investment, the Chattanooga City Council Economic Development Committee did its job for Chattanoogans. Stay tuned as this project moves forward to benefit all.