March 24, 2023 12:00pm

Time for a Convention Center refresh, Power Poll survey shows

Mutts, rescues, Labs and Doodles are canine favs

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

Respondents to the Chattanooga area March Power Poll were united in opinion about the prospect of a renovated and/or expanded downtown convention center: The 38-year-old facility definitely needs work.

A re-imagined convention center also could be a key support to the city’s economic growth, respondents wrote.

Chattanooga Tourism Company executives earlier this month briefed county commissioners about a top-to-bottom study evaluating the Chattanooga Convention Center and assessing its future and needs. Consultants hired to perform the study should have the results this summer.

Tourism Company CEO Barry White has said Chattanooga sometimes cannot compete for larger events because of a lack of adequate space or available dates.

The Power Poll results were clear: 90% of those who responded to the survey said the Carter Street facility should either be renovated (52%) or expanded (38%). Another 10% said the center should be replaced.

David Steele, chief of staff at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the city is “perfectly positioned to become a dominant force in the emerging ‘regional convention’ market.”

Such conventions, in a post-pandemic environment, “will be increasingly relevant, and we can be for those sorts of events what Vegas and Atlanta have been for national gatherings,” he said.

Investing in the city’s regional infrastructure, which includes the convention center, is something that cannot wait.

B.W. Ruffner, a retired physician, was a bit more restrained, noting that utilization data is critical. While regional meetings might be the future, the trade center, he wrote, might be the right size now.

And Miller & Martin attorney Scott Simmons wanted to know if the convention center has made a “full comeback” yet.

“I’d love to be the premier host for visiting convention-related activity, but I’d hate to sink a ton of money into something that, perhaps, may not be used to its full potential,” he said.

Convention center activity is bustling, according to City Council Chairman Darrin T. Ledford, who also was supportive of a facility expansion of some kind.

“As a regular visitor to the convention center, I am always amazed at the buzz of activity and the variety of users,” he wrote.

Cam Doody, managing partner in Brickyard, noted the added benefit of expanded air service that could result from a convention center expansion. Larger events, and more of them, will mean more airline tickets to/from Chattanooga.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly agreed.

“To have a healthy, vibrant downtown, we need more weekday room nights in downtown hotels (as well as more downtown residential development),” Kelly wrote. “Expanding the convention center is the best way to make that happen. It would also likely improve our air service.”

White said he doesn’t know what the consultants will recommend, but Steve Hunt of Hunt Commercial Real Estate said there are obvious options:

“With its adjacency to the mostly vacant TVA complex, now seems to be a great time to consider expanding the Convention Center. Let’s bake in maximum flexibility and drive large and small groups here during the week,” he wrote.

Culture Chatt co-founder Jamie Kerns offered up several thoughtful comments:

* Renovate, not expand, the facility to save some money to spend elsewhere; ensure WiFi accessibility is always up to the Gig City’s reputation, especially when national or international guests choose the Scenic City for their convention business.

* Use the positive energy and momentum to “revitalize downtown to ensure equitable access to new business spaces and living spaces for all Chattanoogans, not just recent transplants or regional legacy families.”

Power Poll respondents largely were in agreement on two questions about firearm security legislation moving through the Tennessee General Assembly.

Asked if lawmakers should approve a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for people to store a gun in a vehicle or boat while they are not in it, unless the firearm is locked in a trunk, glove box or locked container, 84% said “yes,” while 26% said “no.”

But will lawmakers approve it?

A third — 30% — said “yes.”

Seventy percent said “no.”

And finally, about those dogs. The French bulldog, unmistakable for its stout stature and flat face, became the favorite dog breed in America last year, knocking Labrador retrievers from the top spot after about 30 years. Chattanooga Power Pollers were not convinced — by a long shot. Only one respondent said the “Frenchie” was their favorite breed.

“Not a French bulldog,” another commenter wrote. “I didn’t realize it was technically a dog.”

Survey respondents were huge fans of mixed breeds (“They have fewer health issues”) with 10 respondents indicated the so-called “Heinz 57s” were top dogs; another nine wrote that any rescued dog is a top dog. “Whatever is at the pound. Adopt, don’t shop,” one wrote. “Mutts — the best, most loyal dogs are found at the pound,” wrote another.

Next most popular? Easy! Labs, according to 15 respondents, followed by lovers of all things “doodle.”

“This data has to be a decade old,” one person wrote, “America’s favorite dog is a doodle.” These dogs have become wildly popular and include breeds crossed with either standard or miniature poodles: Cavapoo (1), golden doodle (4) labradoodle, Aussiedoodle (2 each), and schnoodle (1).

Golden retrievers netted 5 nods, while Australian shepherds, beagles, boxers, dachshunds and Yorkies came in at 4 each. Cocker spaniels earned 3 nods while Bichons, Border collies, German shepherds and Weimaraners netted 2 nods.

There were plenty of singles, too. For example: Appalachian Mountain Feist (I had to look that one up!), Basset hound, Belgian Tervuren, blue heeler, Catahoula, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Chihuahua, Collie, bearded Collie, Corgi, English Mastiff, Great Pyrenees, Greyhound, Jack Russell terrier, Maltese, Malti-Zou, Old English sheepdog, pitbull, Poodle, Schnauzer, Sheltie, Siberian Husky, Westie and Shar Pei

And a wry summary comment about favorite dog breed: “Any one whose owner is well behaved.”

Well said!

Contact Chris Vass, public editor of the Times Free Press, at or

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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