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If you go
› What: East Chatt Highlight Festival
› Where: 1901 Roanoke Ave. near Glass Street
› When: Friday through Sunday, April 21-23.
› Friday: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Lyrical Lights: Hip-Hop & Spoken Word Showcase
› Saturday: 3-10:30 p.m. Gospel on Glass featuring Unity Performing Arts Foundation; live DJ starting at 7:30 p.m.
› Sunday: 3-10:30 p.m. Family fun picnic: bounce houses, games, vendors; live DJ starting at 7:30 p.m.
EPB will sponsor a light bulb exchange during each event. Residents may bring an old incandescent bulb to exchange for a free LED bulb while supplies last.
Save the date
Highland Park Festival of Lights
› Where: Highland Park Commons
› When: April 25-26
› April 25: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Local showcase with music and activities featuring Young, Black & Gifted.
› April 26: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Music by DJ Flux308
Book Fiesta Weekend
› Where: East Lake Park,
› When: April 28-30
› April 28: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Performances by Expression Engine and Seaux Chill.
› April 29: 2-10:30 p.m. Book Fiesta with music, games and family activities; live DJ starting at 7:30 p.m.
› April 30: 7:30-10:30 p.m. El Fin, closing night with open play and music.
Before the Glass House Collective, Glass Street had no entrepreneur like Michele Peterson teaching youth marketing skills. There were no professional artists like Rondell Crier providing after-school programs, nor did the community have $1.3 million in new infrastructure and neighborhood improvements.
Except for about $300,000 the city funded for sidewalks, most of that money came from property owners updating their buildings and others buying buildings, says Glass House Executive Director Teal Thibaud.
But for all the progress being made, Glass House Collective’s mission to foster improvement in the East Chattanooga neighborhood remains incomplete, she says.
The hurdle? The future of more than 30 acres of city-owned property on Roanoke Avenue at the old Harriet Tubman housing development site.
This weekend, the nonprofit neighborhood collective is hosting a community festival. Organizers hope the event leads to discussion about what will happen to the property, which has sat vacant since 2012, nearly half a decade.
“We hope people can sit there and experience the site and start envisioning what they want to see there,” says Thibaud. “It is 32 acres. It’s something that’s going to make or break the neighborhood.”
Called the Highlight Festival, the event is one more tool Glass House Collective is using to transform its namesake area from a community known for clubs and crime into an artsy, up-and-coming neighborhood with economic opportunity and enrichment for youth.
The vision for the weekend is that those 32 empty acres on Roanoke Avenue will jump with activity during the day and night.
The entertainment lineup starts with a lyrical light show, a hip-hop and a spoken-word showcase, on Friday night, a gospel concert led by local musician and pastor Marcellus Barnes during the day on Saturday and music with a live DJ on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, April 23, there will be picnics, bounce houses and games and more dancing, with a light show on Sunday night.
East Chattanooga is the first of three stops for an interactive lighted art exhibit called “The Pool,” where youth and adults are encouraged to play and dance as the colors change around them. New York City-based artist Jen Lewin created the art with 40,000 LEDs on 106 computer-powered 3-foot discs. The piece activates when someone steps on the pads, according to a news release.
The light exhibit will next go to Highland Park on April 25-26 and then to East Lake Park on April 28-30.
Help from all corners
Thibaud says Glass House isn’t acting alone in its pursuit of community transformation.
Faith-based groups and other organizations like Love Fellowship Church tutored neighborhood children before Glass House came. She notes Hardy Elementary School’s involvement in the community, new housing being built by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area and trails being cleared by the National Park Service to make the Sherman Reservation park accessible to residents again.
Glass House representatives say they also stand with residents in their desire for activity on the former Harriet Tubman site.
The site is actually in Avondale, but it sits at the mouth of the Glass House community.
“From residents we hear a constant ‘What’s going on with that?'” says Glass House communications coordinator Whitni McDonald, about the Tubman property. “We are curious too. That’s going to directly impact the work that we’re able to do here with neighbors and with the art that we want to promote.”
City officials say they are aware of community concerns and they are working to fill the site.
“We are continuing to market the property as a location for a job creation project that has the potential to employ people from East Chattanooga,” says Charles Wood, vice president of economic development with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
Several groups have considered the site for business operations, he says, and the Chamber is working with the city to find a company that will be a good fit for the neighborhood.
The Harriet Tubman development was once one of the largest public housing sites in the city, home to more than 440 low-income families. The development had some 500 units in 2005, until 60 were demolished that year. The first units on the site were built in the 1950s and 1960s.
Chattanooga Housing Authority closed the site in 2012, stating it didn’t have the $33 million needed to repair the housing to good condition. In some units, exterior wood had rotted over the years, leaving gutters dangling and causing leaks inside, eventually making the apartments uninhabitable, CHA officials say.
During its capacity years, the Harriet Tubman housing site and the surrounding neighborhood had a reputation for violence and crime.
Some of those troubles persist today. The city’s 10th homicide of 2017 happened less than a mile from the festival site in the 1900 block of Rawlings Street on April 12, just nine days before the festival starts.
Chattanooga Police say a validated gang member was shot in the head.
The hope for more
The city of Chattanooga purchased the site in 2014 for $2.6 million, then demolished the apartments the same year. After that, there was talk of jobs coming to the property, but so far nothing has happened.
James Moreland, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association, says he hopes for jobs and affordable housing.
“I’d like to see 15 or 20 Habitat homes built there. Those people (who earn Habitat homes) are working, and their income is a certain amount,” says Moreland. “Then when other businesses move there, we will work with that group of people to have them ready to go to work. They’ve got the right skills, the right attitude. I think that would be a win-win. And that should encourage others that if you’re willing to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities out there, you can better yourself.”
Allowing the property to sit seems like a waste, says 28-year-old Jason White, as he sits on a the porch on the 2000 block of Sherman Street near the site.
“Do something,” he says. “They might as well because right now they’re just paying to cut the grass.”
Thibaud calls the East Chattanooga Highlight Festival an event with a dual function of highlighting the good qualities of East Chattanooga and shedding light on the possibilities for the old Harriet Tubman site.
“This project is a great way to start conversation,” she says. “That place hasn’t been activated in years.”
Contact Yolanda Putman at [email protected] or 423-757-6431.
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