The Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation is charged with developing “The Commons”- an 8-acre public space where the community can connect. Featuring a farmer’s market pavilion, green space for outdoor concerts and events, and an indoor community center for year-round events, “The Commons” is slated to become the arts and cultural hub of East Hamilton County.
Building Community: The Commons as Collegedale’s City Center
Just a 30-minute drive northeast of Chattanooga,Tennessee, the growing city of Collegedale is poised for its own renaissance. The greater Collegedale area is fast becoming one of the most desirable areas to live in Hamilton County as a result of its affordable housing and close proximity to work available at major manufacturers and suppliers at Enterprise South Industrial Park. As Collegedale accommodates rapid growth, the city’s leaders and community supporters are taking steps to ensure quality of life by connecting the community and the region beyond.
The Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation is charged with developing “The Commons” where the community can essentially connect in a town square setting. An 8-acre public space located near the Collegedale City Hall complex will feature a farmer’s market pavilion, green space for outdoor concerts and events, and an indoor community center for year-round events. “The Commons” has been slated to become the arts and cultural hub of East Hamilton County, and leaders are anticipating and economic impact that will be felt across the region.
Home to “Little Debbie,” Collegedale became the location for McKee Foods Corporation to build their main plant in the 1950s. Nearby Southern Adventist University had long been a community anchor as well. As these two major institutions drive the local economy, Collegedale continues to flourish in spite of the recent economic recession.
With the arrival of major corporations like Volkswagen Group of America and Amazon Fulfillment located at nearby Enterprise South Industrial Park, new residents are flocking to the growing Collegedale area and new businesses are choosing to locate within the city’s limit.
Now more than ever local leaders are focused on solidifying long-range urban planning and development that celebrates Collegedale’s vibrant past and present as well as ensuring the city’s quality of life for future generations.
“For years, the center of Collegedale focused on the Southern Adventist University campus, and when you said ‘Collegedale’ that’s what people have thought,” Collegedale Mayor Katie Lamb says. “But in recent years, Collegedale and the University have grown and we need some place to call our ‘town center.’ The commons will help us to provide that space and provide activities, recreation, parties, and other events for families and individuals to come together.”
A nonprofit organization called The Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation was established in 2013 to begin researching, planning, and leading a comprehensive plan for the greater Collegedale are with the aim of “promoting growth, preserving our roots.” Under the leadership of Director David Barto, the Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation is spearheading the development of “The Commons.” The vision is to create a town square and green space where the public can gather to enjoy a wide variety of civic, entertainment, and arts and cultural events.
Working with Chattanooga-based Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects on the design, the Collegedale Tomorrow Foundation unveiled the schematic for The Commons in early 2015 and announced a multi-phase construction project with a tentative opening date for 2017. Shaped in a circle, the public space will center around a green where up to 4,000 people can be seated on lawn chairs or blankets for outdoor events. Semi-circular pavilions enclosing the green will house weekly farmer’s markets in partnership with The Chattanooga Market.
“We want to create a whole new kind of community that pushes recreational health and the people coming together,” Barto says. “The CEO for Meetup, Scott Heiferman shared a quote recently that captures what i have been trying to share about the vision for The Commons. He says there is a crisis of connection and a lack of community. At the heart of The Commons, we want to connect people in that great big circle. The Farmer’s Market is not just about buying $8 per pound organic arugula. It’s also about getting to know your neighbors and getting to know the guy who grows your food and the person who painted the art or made the pottery that you’re buying.”
According to Barto , the first phase will include landscaping, parking, utilities, and the West market pavilion, and will open sometime in 2016. Later phases will unfold with the East market pavilion and The Commons sound stage, which will serve as hoe to the East Tennessee Symphony Orchestra and Collegedale’s Annual Fourth of July concert. A community center and event hall will complete The Commons with indoor spaces for birthday parties and wedding receptions, civic gatherings and club meetings, as well as smaller concerts and cultural events.
The Commons: Connecting Collegedale and the Region Beyond
As the city of Collegedale rolls out its urban planning and development to meet the needs of its own growing community, leaders foresee the impact The Commons will have on the surrounding East Hamilton County region and beyond. “Through The Commons we want to create a center not just for the community of Collegedale, but also for the East Hamilton County region,” Barto says.
The Commons will be located in the heart of the Collegedale Greenway, which already draws visitors from around the region to walk, bike, or skate the paved pathway that spans more than four miles along Wolftever Creek. Nearby Imagination Station playground and the Collegedale Veteran’s Park beckon visitors of all ages.
“We see The Commons as having an incredible impact for the citizens of this part of the county,” Mayor Lamb says. “People come to our Imagination Station playground and library from Apison, Ooltewah, Cleveland, and Mcdonald. I can see us begin to attract a number of families from South Bradley County and Catoosa County in Georgia as well.”
Tennessee, Northwest Georgia, and Northeast Alabama, Barto believes that The Commons fits perfectly with the overall regional plan for growth and economic development. “We see The Commons becoming the arts and cultural hub of East Hamilton County,” Barto says. “And we also see it is as a redevelopment tool.We hope it will inspire local businesses to call Collegedale home.”
As East Hamilton County continues to draw new residents and businesses, the city of Collegedale has captured the attention and support of county, state, and federal leaders for The Commons to become a regional hub for arts and culture as well as economic development.
“We have had tremendous interest and support from our local County Representative Turner-Smedley, Hamilton County Mayor Coppinger, our State Representatives Carter and Gravitt, and U.S Congressman Fleischmann,” Mayor Lamb says.”They have all shared what a great thing this is going to be for East Hamilton County and for all of Hamilton County.”
United States Congressman Chuck Fleischmann says he often speaks to people in Washington, D.C. about Collegedale as a model community. “Collegedale continues to be one of the most vibrant communities in Southeast Tennessee and the country,” he says. “This development of The Commons continues that progress and it is going to draw visitors from all over Hamilton County.”
Collegedale Tomorrow: Realizing the Vision for Connection and Community
As Collegedale grows alongside Chattanooga’s expanding metropolitan footprint, the almost prophetic words of Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman also stand as a reminder that it is never too late to connect and build real community. As the leaders of Colllegedale realize their vision for a city center that brings people together, their plan for The Commons is poised as a model for connecting a growing community and the region beyond.