MLK Boulevard was once the soul of the city, full of life, with music as its beating heart.
In the first half of the 20th century, the street was a destination, a gathering place, and the epicenter for the African American community and businesses.
Over time though, with the decline of much of Chattanooga’s downtown, MLK slowly began to lose its shops, events, and people. The history remained,
but the story took a different direction. The street turned from a destination for culture and connection, to a car-centric thoroughfare with a one-way
direction away from the city.
Throughout the many times and changes to MLK, some business-owners, residents and community organizations have remained dedicated to carrying forward the legacy of the Big Nine and bringing life back to the street. And now, with their hard work and a new wave of development in our Center City, new businesses and residents are coming alongside long-time community leaders to share in a new vision for MLK, grounded indeep pride and respect for the legacy of the street.
In effort to support this growing momentum on MLK, Benwood partnered with River City Company to support facade and signage grant programs focused on improving the design and feel of the street, with a nod to the cultural significance and history of the area. Participatory design creates trust amongst people in any area, so this quickly became a top priority for the revival of MLK Boulevard.
Recognizing that the street has not been inviting from a pedestrian standpoint, the signage program gave existing business owners streetscape signage that
help create awareness and more inviting storefronts, while the facade program provided property owners grants to make structural and aesthetic improvements
to their buildings.
Our goal is to lower the barriers that are limiting people from the opportunity that awaits on MLK. We hope to give new business owners confidence in choosing MLK, while also providing support for the existing businesses that call the area home.
Investing in place creates an invitation and an opportunity for the community to join back into the story.
We’re all holding pens in our hands, so let’s start writing history once again.