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3 City Buildings Could Become Affordable Housing; Council Seeks More Info Before Deciding

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The Chattanooga City Council is not in a hurry to decide whether three city buildings should be declared as surplus—not until they get more information from Mayor Berke’s office about the finances involved and the potential economic impact.

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, the agenda included three resolutions about surplusing these three buildings, which are all located downtown around the Innovation District. Rather than voting yes or no on the resolutions, the council voted to table them.

Councilman Erskine Oglesby represents district seven. He spoke after the vote.

“We’re really happy with the tabling, and it gives the administration more time to come up with a more comprehensive plan that’s fiscally sound and gives us logistics on how all this comes together,” he said.

A DIFFERENT USE OF “SURPLUS”

It’s an unusual situation, in part, because of that term, “surplus.”

Surplus—you may think of a company getting rid of old chairs or obsolete computers; items past their prime. That’s not exactly the situation with these three buildings. So the word “surplus” is being used in a different way than the normal meaning.

“It is,” Oglesby said. “Especially in this case. The buildings are being used. So calling it ‘surplus’ when you’re using it, that brings up a red flag.”

In at least two of the three city owned buildings, people are working—the buildings are office spaces. If they were declared surplus, the employees would need to be moved elsewhere.

Surplusing the three buildings isn’t about getting rid of obsolete spaces. The mayor’s office proposed the idea because, they say, the buildings could be sold to a private developer, who could put them to better use. Perhaps renovate them into apartments—affordable housing—which is somewhat scarce downtown. Or otherwise use the buildings to benefit the city’s Innovation District, an area meant to help startups thrive.

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CONCERNED CITIZENS

Some local residents say the mayor’s office hasn’t provided enough details about all this. Councilman Oglesby has heard about that.

“Various community interests,” he said, “they’re concerned, and their concerns are legitimate. Their concerns are my concerns.”

Franklin McCallie is one of those concerned citizens. He’s one of three core members of Accountability for Taxpayer Money, an otherwise loose-knit group that frequents council meetings.

“We don’t have big meetings, except here,” McCallie said. “Sometimes we’ve have 30 or 40 people here who’ve said, yes, I want to be recognized as part of ATM.”

McCallie says he trusts the city council, but before they vote again on this proposal, he’d like public hearings.

“If they’re actually going to come out with information,” he said, “which said, ‘here’s why we want to do it, here’s what it’s going to cost, here’s where we’re going to put our employees who are now in the buildings that we want surplused,’ then I want to see all that. That’s what we’ve been asking for. Be open with us. Be honest with us. Tell us what this is about, and tell us what it’s going to cost. And why.”

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It’s unclear if public hearings will happen, or how community members will be involved in this going forward. But tabling the resolutions gives Mayor Berke’s office more time to create a more detailed plan.

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