Roy Exum: Chik-fil-A Commits To East Ridge And Camp Jordan Development

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In less than three weeks after a plan that could enhance Camp Jordan in East Ridge was announced, it has been learned that a Chik-fil-A restaurant will break ground at Jordan Crossing this fall. While developers John Healy, Matt Woods and Ethan Woods cannot make a public comment, the news is every bit as profound as James Earl Jones saying, “If you build it, they will come,” in the blockbuster movie, “Field of Dreams.”

The Bass Pro Shop was the signature unit on the Jordan Crossing development, which is located right off Exit 1 on I-75. Despite soaring temperatures on Monday, site work on a hotel by Mitch Patel is booming, as well as new construction on a Firehouse Subs and a Dunkin’ Donuts in the area in the eastern section of East Ridge.

Earlier this month the developers hatched a “win-win idea” of a $15 million participation sports complex for Camp Jordan that would include eight new multi-purpose fields (football, soccer, lacrosse) and an array of new baseball/softball/Little League diamonds. Since all the new property will generate “new tax money” (the land was purchased from the state) the developers pitched the idea of earmarking the tax revenue for “recreation use” and it has been met with enthusiasm by the city of East Ridge and Hamilton County.

While “fact” is still being separated from “rumors,” the biggest fact is that the sports complex would give the aging East Ridge population a sorely-needed boost. The complex, which will attract out-of-area teams for tournament competition and generate millions in restaurants, hotels, and tourism, still has a dwindling number of doubters.

For instance, the developers are offering the complex as an idea. Taxes will be paid to East Ridge and Hamilton County regardless. The developers hatched the idea to make their property more palatable, no doubt there, but all three men have children who are soccer players and in Chattanooga demand has far outweighed available facilities for years.

Astroturf officials say when Camp Jordan floods the fields will endure beautifully, and can be used for 12 months a year. Shaw Industries is believed to be interested in building a showcase turf field – at a handsome discount – where they can fly university officials from across the country to see an actual product.

“There has been tremendous interest in the sports complex in the past couple of weeks. It would mean everything to East Ridge but, actually, there would be nothing like it anywhere within 100 miles of us,” said Camp Jordan director Stump Martin. “The community need is huge … (East Ridge Mayor) Brent Lambert and I have been studying it since 2012 but it all comes down to money.”

Stump said he’s traveled with teams he has coached all over the South and wonders if $15 million will be enough. “Williamson County (Tenn.) is looking at $150 million for both an indoor and outdoor facility. I wish we could break ground tomorrow but from strictly a personal standpoint, I’d like to see East Ridge and county officials take a close look at the project because it needs to be ‘done right’ to draw teams for sustainable revenue.”

One critic says East Ridge can’t provide the maintenance. “That’s never going to a problem,” Stump countered. “The more fields you’ve got the more money you’ll make. Sure, you’ll have increased costs but you’ll also have increased revenue. That’s how little things become big things. Right now we have about 600 soccer players. If I had the fields I could have 1,200 in less than a month.”

“If I had more playing fields, we could be making a lot more money. I wonder if Chik-fil-A knows we host 1,500 cross country runners on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We constantly have things going on but, I’ll be honest with you, Camp Jordan needs an overhaul. Give me $2 million and we could fix rest rooms, concessions, and other things that need attention right now,” he said. “The Jordan Crossing development, added with the new entrance off I-75, is a huge blessing for all of Hamilton County,” said the recreation director, “and I am hearing about other possible tenants that will boggle your mind.”

Stump is a gem. I have known him and loved him for 50 years and nobody knows more about athletic facilities, coaching, handling tournaments and good officials than he does. We even worked side-by-side at the Chattanooga News Free Press for a good spell and, when he worries about how much you can get out of $15 million when most cities our size spend $100 million and up, I’m the first to know you can build something cheap and attract the biggest crowds.

Stump says, “Lord yes, we need this athletic complex but before we jump into deep water, those who will vote need to look at some good ones and some bad ones. The people in our community need what makes the most sense. I think Mayor Lambert has a good grip on what matters.”

* * *

Earlier this year the East Ridge City Council took over the dilapidated athletic facilities at East Ridge High School from the struggling Hamilton County Department of Education and Martin says the football stadium, the practice field and the baseball diamond “are as good as any in town right now. We aren’t happy with the soccer field yet but it’s coming along.

“Wait until you see Raymond James Stadium. It looks like a million bucks. I can’t wait to show the school board the before-and-after photos. They took a chance on us and I know they’ll be thrilled. The high school improvements are what the East Ridge community is all about – each other.”

We must agree to move on the sports complex at Camp Jordan. “If you build it, they will come.”

That's a promise. Look for a big Chik-fil-A announcement in a week or so. There’s all the proof you need.

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