Observations from Chattanooga by Luvuyo Bangazi
It is 5am on a Tuesday morning in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA. What brought me here? I arrived here on Monday 4th September ahead of a small delegation from Nelson Mandela Bay invited by the IRONMAN World Championship team. We came to Chattanooga to gain first-hand experience from the City as hosts of the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship 2017 from the 9th to the 10th of September. My employer, the Mandela Bay Development Agency joined hands with Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in preparing to host this annual event in September 2018.
I came to oversee the setup and manning of our City’s exhibition booth, to sell our Bay as an ideal triathlon and holiday destination, engage various media houses and assist all 4500 athletes with visitor and course information for 2018.
Over 4500 athletes with at least 3 or 4 friends or family from 90 countries visited Chattanooga
Wikipedia describes this City of 200 000 residents as a site that was settled in 1815 when John Ross, who was later made a Cherokee chief, established a trading post (Ross’s Landing – the venue of the IRONMAN event) on the river. In 1838 it was renamed Chattanooga, derived from a Creek word for nearby Lookout Mountain meaning “rock rising to a point”. The economy of Chattanooga is driven by Tourism and more recently by the addition of the Financial Services industry. In 2010 this City opened its first automotive manufacturing plant when Volkswagen decided to set up shop, employing well over 3000 residents, a big boost for a small community double the population size of Uitenhage.
Chattanooga’s story of once a derelict City Centre reminds me of Port Elizabeth. Crime moved in and the place got really inhabitable as Ben my cab driver passionately tells the rejuvenation story. This, he says changed when the City got its act together and decided to invest in the CBD by leveraging the river side, upgrading public parks and investing in a world class Aquarium (think MBDA and think Bayworld) establishing a River side precinct (think Baakens Valley).
The Aquarium precinct became a huge catalyst for the revitalization of the old town and today the riverside is home to some of the best mixed use real estate, currently a really busy high end residential estate construction site. The riverside is also home to some of the leading hotel brands; it is the hub for nature tours with tour trucks that turn into river vehicles or boats, e-bicycle parks and tours and most recently the hub for at least four IRONMAN events this year alone.
The IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship is in town and almost R15m per day is spent by athletes on accommodation alone, that is before any pie or beer is sold. This huge injection is what is coming to Nelson Mandela Bay in September 2018. More than R200 million in direct spend into our troubled tourism economy. No guessing why Chattanooga is playing host to not one, not two but four IRONMAN events this year, the only City in the world to do so.
For the first time IRONMAN piloted two days of racing instead of one. This new format meant that the ladies would race on Saturday and the men on Sunday. This format provides for extended global media coverage for the event but most importantly for the City, the format also affords the female athletes the best opportunity to have an interference free race from men. Talk about getting two for the price of one.
This City really put on a show for its visitors including a five day expo for industry to show off and trade. A world championship event also offers the host city many opportunities to showcase; Chattanooga took the initiative by hosting a unique carnival in the Inner City aptly named “Made in Tennessee”. This concert was a celebration of Chattanooga’s culture, heritage and arts providing a unique experience that can’t be replicated anywhere else. This in my mind is one of the best opportunities that lie ahead for Nelson Mandela Bay.