It was famously said in some stupid movie about a fantasy cornfield baseball diamond, “build it and they will come.” In downtown Chattanooga’s case, that’s certainly been true. The Tennessee Aquarium and other attractions bring nearly three million tourists to town each year. Our ultra-huge trade center delivers a wealth of conventions and annual meetings. And, housing built in and around downtown is at near maximum capacity. Despite naysayers at every step of the way, we spent millions upon millions of dollars building it—and they came.
Then, Club Fathom, 801 Fire & Ice, and Midtown hung shingles for pennies on the dollar —and they came. But those who showed up this time didn’t add the same vibe to our party. They brought crime, violence and general nuisance. They thump around our Disneyland downtown popping off caps at each other over the heads of tourists innocently trying to find a snow cone. In short, they are quickly ruining the progress we’ve made downtown over the last two decades without adding anything positive.
Some blame our mayor by gutting the police force. Some blame the police for not keeping the peace. Some blame the Beer Board for outdated regulations with loopholes that shifty lawyers can easily navigate. And some blame the owners of these businesses for allowing such activities to go on in and around their establishments. But what about the property owners?
The police can’t be everywhere at once. The Beer Board needs an overhaul. And the owners of those businesses know what kinds of thugs are going to show up to “da club” and just want some of their Benjamin’s before they make it rain up in here. But the property owners have the 4-1-1 as well, and the power to make a difference.
I realize there are thousands upon thousands of square feet of empty downtown commercial space available to the handful of takers willing to sign long-term leases. And I know that the property tax bill is the same whether a space is generating income or not. But in actuality, landowners are shooting themselves in the foot by renting to tenants who detract from the area around their property.
You see, by renting to businesses that draw an unsavory clientele, they are helping drive down the appeal and property value of the area. Why would anyone want to trip over the dollars of property value to pick up the dimes of regular rent? Doesn’t make good business sense to me.
That said, property owners have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the neighborhoods they serve by leasing to respectable tenants and then keeping an eye on what’s going on within their property’s four walls. Or at least they should. We can only do so much from the outside looking in. It’s up to owners to do their part and lease to good tenants.
Some take this responsibility to heart. Some don’t. I was part of a group that leased a space on Georgia Avenue. I remember the landlord being very inquisitive about what we were going to do with the space, even giving us some guidelines by which we were to adhere. But our intentions were good, and we were good tenants.
This same landlord also owns and leases the space where Midtown Music Hall is located. Apparently she quit paying attention, or doesn’t care, what is going on in and around that space. No, she likely looks the other way because she is in no way responsible for what goes on in the businesses located in her building. But what if she was? What if she was imposed a substantial fine each and every time the police were called to her property for a disturbance? If so, all lost rent aside, I think she’d kick out the troublemakers and look harder to find more responsible tenants.