Urban Design Challenge -Times Free Press

Southside planners replace chicken plant with arena, light rail

July 18th, 2012by Ellis Smithin Business Around the RegionRead Time: 3 mins.

The River City Co. presented the last of six Urban Design Challenge plans on Tuesday at Finley Stadium. A local design team worked for almost a year to create a new vision for a number of city blocks west of Broad Street on Chattanooga’s Southside.

If chickens could cheer, they certainly clucked their approval Tuesday night at a plan to replace the smelly Pilgrim’s Pride processing plant with 23 blocks of urban renewal.

The project, the cost of which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, is designed to create a new gateway on Chattanooga’s Southside.

In most cities, a movie star can attract a crowd. In Chattanooga, it’s the architects.

The last of River City Co.’s six urban design challenges was held in Finley Stadium’s Stadium Club and drew almost 200 local officials, residents and developers.

Urban designers proposed a striking new indoor arena, large outdoor spaces and integrated rail transportation for the Southside, which could transform the collection of former industrial lots into a hipster’s paradise.

The architectural rendering almost doesn’t look like Chattanooga.

But it could be — in 20 years.

Designers worked on the complex plan for nearly a year and had more than 100 meetings in their search for the “highest and best use” for the various properties, said David Hudson, CEO of architectural firm Artech.

Hudson didn’t have to search far to determine that the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant was neither the highest nor the best use for what he sees as prime property downtown.

“It is the biggest impediment to development in that area that there is,” he said. “It’s been talked about for years but it’s never been brought up in public. Now, we’re bringing it up.”

Under his team’s proposal, the renamed Pilgrim’s Plaza mixed-use development would anchor a new indoor arena that could replace or complement UTC’s McKenzie Arena.

McKenzie, which sits on valuable land that could serve as student housing, isn’t big enough for some SEC and NCAA games and is too small for some concerts, Hudson said.

“Chattanooga is missing out,” he said. “An arena here makes sense.”

The arena would lie just north of Finley Stadium, allowing the two to share parking and other facilities. But it only works if the chicken fumes from Pilgrim’s Pride aren’t wafting through the bleachers.

“The chicken plant eventually has got to go if development is going to happen,” Hudson argued.

Designers also tackled the dour-looking intersection of Broad and Main, described by architect Heidi Hefferlin as “a place that is a nowhere place.”

Under the new plan, designers want to transform the area into an explosion of urban activity.

New buildings and a light-rail station surround a remarkable plaza with emanating concentric brick waves.

“In our design, the new buildings kind of cascade around the site,” Hefferlin said.

The proposed rail lines, some of which already exist, would connect commuters to the university district to the north, and to the U.S. Pipe site to the south.

Nearby greenways would link the Southside to the Riverwalk, St. Elmo and Lookout Mountain.

“It’s very possible that something like this could happen,” said Hudson, though he admitted that some elements of urban design are always a dream.

“At some point, they said that we should put in an aquarium and everybody said they were crazy,” Hudson said. “They were dreaming then, and we’re dreaming now.”

Parking is handled through surface parking and underground parking garages beneath Pilgrim’s Plaza, but ultimately through de-emphasizing the car’s role in the reimagined Southside, said architect Matthew Parks.

And, if possible, de-emphasizing the Pilgrim’s Pride plant downtown.

Pilgrim’s Pride, which employs more than 1,500 workers at its two Chattanooga poultry processing plants, discussed with designers the possibility of consolidating its operations elsewhere, Parks said.

“When we examined what we could put there instead, we said ‘wow, look what we can do now,'” Parks said. “Something has to happen with that chicken plant.”

Follow the latest Chattanooga news on Facebook.