Image Credit: Chattanooga Lookouts / Facebook
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Hamilton County’s outgoing mayor is ready to tap into county reserves or use federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan to fund a new stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts.
The new stadium plan proposed on the abandoned Wheland Foundry site on the Southside of Chattanooga is being called a waste of money and a “boondoggle” by conservative Nashville think tank, the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Mark Cunningham, spokesman for the group said that the plan is a “handout to well-connected millionaires at the expense of taxpayers.”
The state chose not to finance the new stadium during this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers instead passed a bill that allows the Chattanooga Lookouts to move to a new stadium in the city and retain a sales tax deal where the team keeps the first 5.5% of the state’s 7% sales tax for sales at the stadium and extends the deal to apply to non-baseball events at the stadium.
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Mayor Jim Coppinger, whose term ends September 1st, says that Nashville developer Mark Deutschmann won’t redevelop the Wheland site without the new Lookouts stadium.
Deutschmann, the chief executive of Core Development envisions $150 million in residential and commercial space next to the stadium in what he calls a “live-work-play district.” His company hopes to build 400 to 500 homes and as much as 20,000 feet of neighborhood-scale commercial space on 11 acres of the Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe tract.
Core is also discussing the possibility of creating a 35-acre public park adjoining the site with significant community input. Building a new stadium in the South Broad district would free up Hawk Hill downtown for new development while attracting more businesses to the growing Southside. Sales and property taxes are expected to bring in more than what the city and county are discussing investing in the project.
“These projects more than pay for themselves over time and help make our community better,” said Coppinger in a phone interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I think that will be the case with what we’re looking to invest to help in this stadium project.”
However, Cunningham of the Beacon Center of Tennessee says, “The owners of the Lookouts would rather focus on trying to get a new stadium on the tab of taxpayers than the fact that 60% of the stadium sat empty in 2021.”
The Lookouts say that stadium attendance was down last year because of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, the owners of the Lookouts built a similar stadium in Fort Wayne, Indiana that they say helped boost annual attendance there from about 250,000 to more than 550,000. That included 400,000 for the baseball team and 150,000 in attendance at other stadium events.
Coppinger pointed out the inequities of state lawmakers denying funding for Chattanooga after providing direct aid for the Knoxville Smokies, the Nashville Sounds and the Tennessee Titans.
The Beacon Center opposed public funding for all those stadiums but called the proposal for public funding for the Lookouts “one of the worst because there is already a stadium for the Lookouts that they can’t even fill half the seats for most of the time, so this won’t give the community anything new.”
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.