What does it say about a city in which it is proposed that $4.05 million be spent for a light system for the iconic Walnut Street Bridge?
» It says the city is in tip-top financial shape. Check!
Just before Mayor Andy Berke's annual State of the City address in April, he told Times Free Press editors and reporters Chattanooga is at a "fantastic moment, economically."
"People have more money," he said, "and they're spending it."
That, in turn, means the city has more money — and more money to spend.
» It says the bridge is mighty important. Check!
The bridge, constructed in 1890 and opened in 1891, was closed for motorized traffic — and recommended for demolition by the Tennessee Department of Transportation — in 1978.
Instead, it was suggested by advocates and local officials that the bridge be converted for pedestrian use, a committee was formed to look into the possibility, and for $4.5 million the project was completed in 1993, a project which began two years earlier, 100 years to the date of its original dedication. The 2,376-foot-long span, at the time of its restoration, was the world's longest pedestrian bridge and is listed as the state's oldest non-military highway bridge still in use.
Today, it is not only a popular pedestrian walkway to and from the North Shore, but it serves as a venue for nonprofit activities such as Wine Over Water and as a viewing point for activities on the Tennessee River below it.
» It says the city has no greater priorities. Check?
The bridge, according to an American Planning Association website, has 212 lights. What the lighting proposal is suggesting is not just to replace those lights but also to implement a "data responsive lighting design" that would respond to people walking on the bridge and to the flow of the river under the bridge.
The proposal is for the city to pay $2 million for the lights from its hotel and motel tax revenue and $2.05 million from "external" sources, or private donors.
In March, Public Art Committee director Katelyn Kirnie said $2 million was to be budgeted to pay for the "very outdated" lighting on the bridge. However, once options were reviewed and chosen, the price tag rose to $4.05 million. That is in addition to the $14 rehabilitation the bridge will undergo over the next five years.
No one would question that the bridge needs to be maintained, but we do wonder about the necessity of lights for the bridge that have all of the functions of a pre-lit Christmas tree.
Imagine the fun — chaser, sequential, slow fade, fast fade, on-and-off, all red, all white, all blue.
Kirnie said, though, that the changes in lighting would not be "abrupt" but would change gradually, based on the flow of pedestrian traffic on the bridge or the flow of the water below it.
Still, no matter how tasteful the light changes, it sounds to us a little like Smoky Mountain Winterfest in Pigeon Forge or Ozark Mountain Christmas in Branson, Mo.
Perhaps we're old-fashioned, but there is something stately and classic about the static white lights that adorn the tops of downtown buildings — and the bridge — during the holidays.
Beyond that, though, we wonder how many more "external" sources the private sector will be asked to contribute to.
Most recently, it was the Miller Park renovation, expected to be finished sometime this year, where, according to Times Free Press archives, private funds are to cover about 60 percent of the project.
And since the cost of the park do-over grew from $8.1 million in late 2016 to $10.3 million today, everybody had to dig a little deeper.
At least for now, though, the pockets of the city's private citizens — in the admirable "Chattanooga Way" — seem not to have a bottom.
"No one is concerned at all that the last small portion ($300,000 in March) won't come in," Amy Donahue of River City Co. said of the Miller Park project.
"We will be actively fundraising," Kirnie said of the bridge proposal, "and we are confident we have a number of parties interested."
We also wonder if the difference in the money between the $3 million "base option" that provider Moment Factory offered for the bridge lighting to the $4.05 million customized package the vendor later put forth might be better used on, for example, student resource officers or school maintenance projects.
Yes, the city is no longer in the school business, but the bulk of the county's 44,000 public school students live in the city. However, the county has found it impossible to keep up with the district's facility maintenance needs, and now parents and law enforcement officials are demanding resource officers in every school.
A little help from the city would go a long way toward those ends.
Don't get us wrong, though. We see the value in the bridge and the attractiveness of lights. But an energy-efficient base system would in no way diminish the treasure the city has in its most historic of river spans.