Roy Exum: Maybe The Best Idea Ever

Friday, July 7, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

First the disclaimer: I had to have this explained to me three times. You need to understand that I have learned the hard way that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Anything good has a price, and it is always accompanied by a lot of hard work – regardless of what any robo-call might promise.

My dear pal John Healy and the Woods brothers – Matt and Ethan – are partners in an exciting business called Wolftever Development. They are the ones behind the Bass Pro Shop complex off I-75 in East Ridge, that same place Mitch Patel is putting up a new Hampton Inn. They are the driving force behind the renaissance on Ringgold Road next to I-75.

They have some big ideas but their latest is beyond the realm of the imagination.

They are eager to build a huge sports complex, including badly-needed renovations at Camp Jordan. I’m talking about deluxe, with an initial outlay of $15 million plus. And the catch is that it will not cost a single taxpayer in East Ridge one ‘Pioneer orange’ cent. Neither the city of East Ridge nor Hamilton County budgets will be touched in any way. Did your red light blink, too?

Wait … I’m completely sold!

Here’s how it works: Not long ago Wolftever Development wrote a check for taxes on a 50-acre parcel where the Bass Pro Shop and the Hampton Inn are located. As other tenants sign leases, the taxes will grow. What makes this so unique is that the 50-acre property has never been taxed before; it was bought from the state of Tennessee. Any tax money it now generates is “new money,” additional income.

The Wolftever guys – who all went to Boyd Buchanan together – want the city of East Ridge and Hamilton County to “earmark” their taxes – which they will gladly pay – but ask their taxes be solely used as “parks and recreation money,” for lack of a better term. With the tax money guaranteed year-after-year, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert could go to the state, acquire a 30-year bond for the construction of a vast sports facility and totally service the debt with the “new” tax money that Wolftever pays.

Again, it sounds too good to be true. “We got the idea because every other city the size of our community has a huge multi-use sports complex,” John explained. “All of our children play CFC soccer and, as we go around the South for tournaments, these big complexes are unbelievable. The reason they are so big and so lavish is to attract tournaments. Any tournament brings money into a community …. hotels, meals, all areas of tourism.

“Both Mayor Coppinger and Mayor Lambert know what this will do and have told us they are behind it. The East Ridge Council would probably approve it today – each wants East Ridge to prosper -- but they need the Hamilton County Commissioners to lend their clout and the county’s high bond rating,” he said, “but we are ready to go …”

So where is the gorilla? “We sure can’t find one!” Matt Woods laughed. “From a business standpoint, it is obvious a renovated Camp Jordan – with four times the playing fields it has now – would make our property a lot more attractive. That’s where we would benefit most.

“The bigger windfall would be to Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Our area is woefully short in athletic facilities. There isn’t a public school track where a meet can be held – do you realize that -- but our plans include an eight-lane state-of-the art track the NCAA would easily allow. “We’ll use a lot of artificial turf on our multi-purpose field so you can not only play in rainy weather but almost year round. Our kids played in an Atlanta soccer tournament last January – bundle up and let ‘em play!

“Right now we are looking at eight additional multi-purpose fields with turf and another six with grass. (multi-purpose is football, soccer and lacrosse.)” Matt pointed to drawings. “We’ll have four high school/college baseball fields – one in a stadium – and we will have another stadium that will seat around 5,000 for football and soccer.” There will be eight softball/Little League baseball fields.”

In the preliminary drawings by MPL Construction, future expansion is possible. “We think East Ridge and the county will want to expand it when they see the revenue this is going to generate in the community and, to think, it didn’t take a penny away from any other government service!”

“Camp Jordan is right at 275 acres,” Woods explained. “This would put us on par with some great sports complexes in Alabama and some other Tennessee cities. Atlanta is building a monster – over 1,000 acres – but the great thing Chattanooga has is it premier location. We have everything to offer – except a sports complex!”

The East Ridge exit on I-75 is being completely redone and the new figuration will take traffic on a direct route into Camp Jordan. The eight fields and the baseball fields already on the site will be redone and the indoor soccer facility will be polished. “Last year our CFC soccer team had to cancel two matches because they had no facilities. That won’t happen it East Ridge and Hamilton County leaders can realize this is something our community needs badly,” he added, “and this is almost custom-made to host the TSSAA’s Spring Fling.”

Put me down in the belief it is a stroke of great fortune. At a time when our sports facilities at our county schools are dismal, the Camp Jordan complex is a Godsend. Get this one on the agenda!

John Healy
John Healy

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