Chattanooga gets bad news on Lookouts Stadium project
Senate Bill 2890 receives "negative recommendation;" State won't fund $20.8 million to kickstart project
CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – The Lookouts begin their season April 8th on the road in Knoxville to play the Smokies.
But each day that passes is one more day a new stadium here is needed if Chattanooga wants to keep baseball here.
And the city got some bad news Tuesday with a negative recommendation on Senate Bill 2890 – a bill that would help offset construction costs with sales tax money from stadium purchases.
The Lookouts began as a franchise back in 1885. One of the longest terms of any major league sports teams to be in one city.
Chattanooga needs just under 21 million dollars from the state to help, not only build the Lookouts a new stadium, but to also revitalize the South Broad Street area.
And that’s not sitting well with state officials. Even the person that made Senate Bill 2890, Sen. Todd Gardenhire.
“Somebody’s got to make a decision pretty fast because time is running out on what they’re going to do so we can structure something in the Senate that will help them along but not rely on us to fund it,” Gardenhire says.
The South Broad Street revitalization project, which includes the stadium, housing, green space and developments for residential and commercial use, is expected to cost 84 and a half million dollars, but the first part of it is what the city needs to help get the project started: Just under 21 million dollars.
More from Gardenhire: “Part of that money you mentioned is the ten million dollar value on 14 acres of land that hasn’t been remediated yet, and that is nowhere near what the value of 14 acres that’s a brown field. That’s an inflated value that the owners of the property are using to justify this money.”
Ellis Smith, the city’s communications director, says “It’s Chattanooga’s Western gateway, and it’s … it’s nothing. It’s a wreck. There’s not folks clamoring over one another to build on this property. Part of the reason is that it needs a little work. this is one of the ways that government can be useful. is we can help set the stage…We can help build the framework that will unlock the potential of private investment.”
The negative recommendation on Senate Bill 2890 doesn’t kill it. It only says this cannot go forward with how the project is currently structured. Gardenhire says he’s willing to work with the city to get this done, but he has to see a better plan first. Mayor Kelly’s office believes this is too important to ignore.
Smith: “There was somebody recently who wrote about, ‘Well, why are we spending this money on this South Broad revitalization project? We should be spending it on parks.’ And the answer is this brings in money that we can spend on parks. This brings in money we can spend on homelessness, on workforce development, on housing. A rising tide lifts all ships. This isn’t about somebody getting one piece of the pie or the other. This is about growing the pie.”
Once the project gets started, it’s expected to take a few years to complete. If it doesn’t start at all, the city could be in danger of losing one of its biggest pieces of history.