Authority members agreed to actively help recruit businesses, like The History Company, to the downtown district. The History Company owners Louis and Rene Varnell want to relocate their business - which is located three miles south of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Chickamauga - to LaFayette Road in Fort Oglethorpe.
“We’re probably the coolest little store you’ve never seen because we’re on the wrong side (of the park),” Louis Varnell said.
Varnell said he wants to get more regular tourism traffic through his store and that he needs more space to expand his retail operation. A significant number of his regular customers are reenactors or collectors, he said.
“We sold some props to The Discovery Channel,” Louis Varnell added.
The Varnells sell books, militaria, reenacting supplies and regional souvenirs. The couple also offers historical programs to school groups and operated the Southeast Veterans Museum. Louis Varnell said he and his wife were forced to close the museum when the building was sold. The Varnells have placed the museum’s artifacts into storage. Most of these items were donated to them by area military veterans, he said.
The couple told the authority they have considered buying one of two properties on which to relocate, an old Taco Bell and a former McDonald’s. Varnell said the old Taco Bell property was in his price range, but he would prefer the old McDonald’s property because the building is larger.
A Department of Community Affairs meeting is scheduled to be held at City Hall in Fort Oglethorpe Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 10:30 a.m. in the work room. The Design Team will present renderings based on the first Design Team meeting that was held to discuss LaFayette Road ideas for improvements and economic growth and their expertise in the field.
“A business like theirs would complement what we’re trying to do,” authority chairman Jeff Epperson said. Authority members agreed the city’s downtown district should reflect its Civil War history and draw more visitors into Fort Oglethorpe’s stores and restaurants.
Chris McKeever, 6th Cavalry Museum director, told the authority about her visit with the Rossville Downtown Development Authority. McKeever was invited to speak there recently about a medical exhibit. She told Fort Oglethorpe’s authority members their Rossville counterparts put forth a great effort to retain and recruit businesses to their historic downtown. She said when Quintin Perry, “Chef Q,” owner of Chef Q’s Gourmet Takeout and Catering in Rossville was “having trouble with his building,” the Rossville authority stepped in to help.
McKeever said the Rossville authority holds a quarterly meeting for its district’s businesses to attend. The Rossville DDA also has a four-committee structure and associate non-voting members, she said.
“That’s how they grow their committee structure and get their work done,” McKeever said.
Epperson said the authority could follow Rossville’s example and develop a more formalized structure in order to draw more businesses to DDA meetings.
“We have to get the table bigger and have more people sit at it,” he said.
Fort Oglethorpe city councilman and authority member Louis Hamm suggested the authority look into hiring a part-time DDA director, so there would be a go-to person to interact with businesses and the city.
Authority members then discussed encouraging business owners to buy a banner that would reflect the city’s historic past, such as the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Hamm offered to speak to Jeff Long, the city’s public works director, about how much these banners might cost.
Authority members also voted to remove Harry Patel from the authority, because of his consistent absences. Epperson said authority members should speak to residents or business owners and operators who might like to serve on the authority now that there is a vacant seat.
Epperson explained that to be eligible to serve on the authority, individuals must live in Fort Oglethorpe or own or operate a business in the Fort Oglethorpe downtown district and live in Walker or Catoosa counties. Residents or business people who are eligible and interested in serving on the DDA can pick up an application at city hall, he said. Eligible applicants must then be nominated by the authority and approved by the Fort Oglethorpe City Council.