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    A makeover for empty storefronts: Open Spaces program hopes to attract tenants with art projects

    An empty store-front in New York features digital birds that fly away when the viewer calls the phone number on the display. River City Co. wants to use ideas like this to attract tenants to vacant properties in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press .

    It is a commonly held belief that the best way to sell a home, especially an unoccupied one, is to stage it with furniture to give potential buyers an idea of what it could look like.

    Planners at River City Co., a downtown development agency, have created a similar plan to attract businesses to empty commercial spaces along Market Street between Sixth and Eighth streets. Instead of filling the spaces with tables and chairs, however, they will use art installations that feature light and interactive elements.

    Open Spaces hopes to use the talents of artists, architects, engineers, designers and other creatives to come up with ideas that will turn a blank storefront window into an art piece that will make people stop and play a video game, or dial a number on their cellphones that makes a flock of digital birds sitting on a phone wire suddenly take flight, for example. The project is being funded by a grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation.

    “We know that people don’t like to walk by an empty building because they don’t feel safe, and even if they do walk by, pretty soon they stop looking inside or even noticing it,” said Paige Southard, program coordinator with River City Co.

    Communications specialist Amy Donahue said the idea is to have the spaces animated 24 hours a day, preferably with some sort of light element, with the installations remaining in place for one year.

    There are between 30 and 40 windows in the four properties, including the Chattanooga Bank Building and the Miller Brothers building, that are part of the program. Some of the larger installations could take up multiple windows, but most will occupy single spaces.

     

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