We stopped in Chattanooga on our recent field trip to visit with a friend. We haven't been there in quite some time, and the changes are amazing. There's been a lot of talk here and elsewhere about Knoxville's "Chattanooga envy." Sorry, but Chattanooga is winning.
They have a better downtown, a better riverfront, better public transportation, a better newspaper, better diversity among top employers, a better chamber of commerce and better and more philanthropic public-private partnerships.
For example, they have a free electric shuttle that connects downtown to the North Shore arts and shopping district. They have public bicycles with racks all over town for pickup and drop off, and and the first hour is free. Their riverfront development is what Knoxville's should aspire to be. Their downtown is like Market Square, except it goes on for block after block after block and has nicer bars and restaurants at which you might actually want to dine.
Their neighborhood revitalization efforts are paying off, at least on the South Side where our friend lives. His neighborhood looks a little like Fort Sanders, except the houses are nice and well maintained and you'd actually want to live there. The arts community is thriving, jumpstarted by training and mortgage assistance grant programs that helped artists relocate to downtown neighborhoods and open galleries.
The latest program provides mortgage and moving expense grants for IT professionals, and cash prizes for entrepreneurs who launch businesses that take advantage of Chattanooga's city-wide gigabit internet.
We stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo in one of the converted rail cars. It was quaint, but it is overpriced and the property is showing its age. The gardens and grounds were very nice. The standard rooms looked clean and serviceable, and there are lots of them. The terminal is ornate and grand, but it is past its prime. There's a nice bar and a dodgy restaurant, which we skipped. (Instead, we went to the Easy Bistro, mainly because they had patio dining and we could take the puppy. The food and service were excellent. Don't know about the interior space, because we didn't go inside.)
We had always wanted to stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and we're glad we were able to before it suffers any further decline. I would only recommend it for nostalgia/train buffs. As for value, we paid only $20 more for a plush, five-star stay at the Loews in downtown Atlanta (not counting tips and bar tabs), complete with a doggie welcome gift bag with nice food and water dishes, treats and more.
Our friend took us to the Bluegrass Grill for breakfast. It's about a block from his house and just around the corner from the Choo Choo. Highly recommended if you're in the area, but get there early because people were lined up out the door by 8AM.
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