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Regional Partnership Aims to Revive Rossville Textile Mill Site

June 10, 2016
Peerless Woolen Mills in Rossville

A devoted effort to revive the heart of a northwest Georgia manufacturing community took shape this spring through an innovative economic development collaboration with the University Of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute Of Government, Chattanooga’s Lyndhurst Foundation and GMA.
 
Through the collaboration, six teams of UGA landscape architecture students invested months of work preparing redevelopment designs for the Peerless Woolen Mills site that Rossville Mayor Teddy Harris calls the heart of his city. On May 2, the students presented their revitalization designs to Harris, other community leaders, citizens and members of the economic development coalition in Rossville City Hall.
 
With Lyndhurst Foundation support, 18 landscape architecture students working through UGA’s Urban Design Studio produced alternative solutions to reinvigorate the 27-acre mill site as a nexus for the kinds of social and business activities that can be seamlessly incorporated into the fast-growing metropolitan Chattanooga region.
 
“They are all great designs,” Harris said. “The thing I really like is that when these plans are given to prospective developers and investors they can pick and choose the parts that economically are the best fit for redevelopment.”
 
The Urban Design Studio is a component of the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership, an economic development collaboration coordinated by the Institute of Government, GMA, the Georgia Cities Foundation and others. For the first time, a Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership project was supported by the Lyndhurst Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening metro Chattanooga’s economy.
 
In Rossville, just across the state line from Chattanooga, students with the UGA College of Environment and Design worked in groups to create six different redevelopment plans for Peerless Mills. The students modeled big-picture ideas that could serve as catalysts for effective site redevelopment.
 
One group based its proposal on the region’s exceptional recreational opportunities by designing what could become a recreation mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and related retailers and small manufacturers. Other designs focused on developing a railroad center, a large civic plaza or mixed-use high-tech or green industry incubators.
 
Preparing realistic plans that can serve as catalysts for reviving the longdormant mill site required the support of a growing coalition of public and private organizations, starting with the Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership. GMA and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government launched the partnership in 2013 with support from the Georgia Cities Foundation to help municipal leaders foster vibrant downtowns. Institute of Government faculty member Danny Bivins coordinates the Renaissance Partnership with GMA.
 
CED is intimately involved in two of the partnership’s three components: the Urban Design Studio that produced the Rossville redevelopment plans and a summer internship program. The Institute of Government works closely with GMA on the third component, a Renaissance Strategic Visioning & Planning (RSVP) process that helps Georgia cities establish effective downtown revitalization programs.
 
In just three years, more than 30 Georgia cities have benefitted from the Renaissance Partnership, GMA Executive Director Lamar Norton points out.
 
“The Georgia Downtown Renaissance Partnership has been a great resource for cities,” Norton said. “The Urban Design component gives students career-building experience and the participating cities get a well-thought-out plan to help them move forward.”
 
Landowners Hazel and Mitchell Bell were excited to offer Peerless Mills as a study site for CED Associate Professor Douglas Pardue’s Urban Design students. Additional support came from the Lyndhurst Foundation and the citizen-led Thrive 2055, both dedicated to advancing economic, educational and recreational opportunities in the Chattanooga area.
 
The Lyndhurst Foundation has been a major player in Chattanooga’s ongoing rebirth and its service area includes five Georgia counties. This year, the foundation lent its support to Renaissance Partnership projects in Rossville, Chickamauga and Chatsworth, according to President and Treasurer Benic “Bruz” Clark III.
 
“Community visioning and innovative urban planning and design have been essential ingredients in the Lyndhurst Foundation’s long-term strategy to revitalize downtown Chattanooga,” Clark said. “It is exciting to be able to help export this approach to community and economic development in outlying towns such as Rossville, Chatsworth and Chickamauga through the Renaissance Partnership.”
 
The Peerless Mills project illustrates perfectly why the Renaissance Partnership is so special, Pardue said. “It provided an exceptional experiential learning opportunity for our students by allowing them to work directly with community leaders and partners on an important civic site. And it provided the city of Rossville with design visions that will assist with site planning and fundraising,” he said.
 
Mayor Harris pledged to continue working with the Bell family to once again make Peerless Mills the vibrant heart of a thriving city. “The city is here to facilitate and to help in any way that we can. I think an economic boom will take place in the entire south side of the Chattanooga metro area when the right combination of redevelopment happens at Peerless Mills.”
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