Innovation District Organizations Collaborate To Address Food Access By Opening Market In Patten Towers

Monday, December 11, 2017

Causeway, The Enterprise Center, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, and PK Management have partnered together to open a small market on the ground floor of Patten Towers. The goal of the store is to provide healthy, affordable, and accessible food to the residents of Patten Towers, as well as those who live or work in the Innovation District.  The ribbon cutting ceremony is set for Thursday at 2 p.m. at Bingo’s Market located at the Patten Towers.   

The store, called Bingo’s Market, opened in October of this year as a six-month pilot project. The market will sell fresh produce, grocery staples, household items, $1 coffee from Mad Priest Coffee Roasters, and grab-and-go breakfast and lunch options from Vibrant Meals, all at the most affordable prices possible. 

In 2015, a section of downtown Chattanooga was declared the Innovation District, with The Edney Building chosen as the anchor of the district. Right across the street from the Edney Building sits Patten Towers, an independently owned, government subsidized apartment building. In order to live in Patten Towers, residents must be 62 years old and older, or have a disability, either mental or physical, and be below a certain income level. In a survey done in 2015, many residents reported an income of less than $500 a month.  

“Innovation is all about solving problems,” said Abby Garrison, Causeway’s executive director. 
“There was an obvious opportunity in front of us to harness the emerging spirit of innovation, and use it to address a big problem facing some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”  

In Summer 2015, Causeway and The Company Lab received a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation to support their work connecting Patten Towers and the Innovation District. Through the summer and fall, employees of those organizations and The Enterprise Center started building relationships with the residents of Patten Towers. They played Bingo with the residents every other week, hosted a weekly business class, sponsored a health fair with over 50 vendors, and facilitated several focus groups to better understand the residents’ needs.  

In one survey, 51 percent of the residents said that access to food was the biggest issue they were facing. For the last six years, the owners of Patten Tower and the YMCA’s Mobile Market have been addressing this issue.  However, the Mobile Market was only able to be on-site at Patten Towers once a week for a few hours. Bill Rush, director at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, says the YMCA has been piloting healthy corner stores in three other low income neighborhoods to provide more consistent access to healthy food. Bingo’s Market will follow a similar model, but with more extensive healthy and affordable options. 

The store is on the ground floor of Patten Towers in a room that has an external entrance facing Georgia Avenue, across from the Pickle Barrel. The building’s management company, PK Management, is allowing the group to use the space rent-free.  

“We are thrilled to be entering into a partnership that is addressing the needs of our residents, ensuring that they are treated as valued members of the Chattanooga community,” said Joyce Walker, vice president of Community Development for PK Management. “We are committed to helping this store and our residents thrive.”  

The store is open for a six-month pilot period. In that time, the organizers are hoping to make it financially sustainable so that it can be passed off to a local entrepreneur to run as a viable business.  

“We really hope that people who work in the Innovation District will see this as an opportunity to play an active and positive role in this neighborhood, whether they work at a startup in The Edney Building, or at larger companies like TVA, EPB or Unum,” said Ann Coulter, Enterprise Center. “This is a way for us all to invest in the place that we live.”

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