The East Ridge City Council on Thursday night passed a measure bringing professional soccer one step closer to becoming a reality in Camp Jordan Park.
Resolution 2927 authorizes the mayor and city manager to undertake a process called “conversion” for five acres of the park that would become a training facility for the Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer club.
The measure allows city officials to apply through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to lift restrictions on the use of the five acres.
Those restrictions were placed by the federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Act, an entity from which the city received grant money when it established the park some 40 years ago.
The process of “conversion” could take many months to be reviewed by TDEC before being passed along to the National Park Service for final approval, officials said.
The vote to pass Resolution 2927 was unanimous, but not before Councilman Jacky Cagle expressed reservations.
“It’s nice to go with the conversion of these fields but what else are they (Red Wolves) wanting?” Councilman Cagle said. “Does the light bill go with it? Does the water bill go with it?”
City Attorney Mark Litchford said the “conversion” is nothing more than the lifting of restrictions that were conditions of accepting the federal grant decades ago. If the “conversion” is approved – and he said there is a 99 percent chance of that happening _ then the city would enter into a lease agreement with the Red Wolves where details such as Councilman Cagle mentioned would be hammered out.
Councilman Cagle then stated that some years ago the city entered into an agreement with the Chattanooga Football Club that essentially gave that organization exclusive use of some soccer fields in Camp Jordan.
City Attorney Litchford said he had reviewed the city’s agreement with CFC and said that clause dealt with amateur “soccer academies” and did not apply to professional soccer.
“Remember that when it comes back up,” Councilman Cagle said.
Attorney Litchford said that Red Wolves owner Bob Martino wants to invest between $1.2 and $1.5 million to build a world-class practice facility on the five acres where the Weldon Osborne Stadium now sits. Those facilities would include a 2,000-seat stadium, an updated field, locker rooms and coaches offices for the team, and a retail area.
Mr. Martino would foot the bill ($10,000) for the “conversion” application, Attorney Litchford said. In addition, the city is working to identify five acres adjacent to Camp Jordan Park that would become part of the park.
Mayor Brian Williams emphasized that if the city entered into a public/private agreement with the Red Wolves, the property leased to the organization would still be owned by the city of East Ridge.
The council approved a resolution that authorizes spending $136,000 to buy shade structures for 13 bleachers for softball and baseball fields at Camp Jordan, which is currently undergoing a $2.3 million renovation.
Parks and Recreation Director Adam Wilson said USA Shade Structures would do the work. The shade structures have a 10-year warranty.
After extensive discussion, the council passed a resolution authorizing the spending of between $15,500 and $25,000 to resurface and update the tennis courts at East Ridge High School.
Mr. Wilson told the council the deal with Competition Athletic Surfaces was to revamp the two courts closest to Bennett Road.
Councilman Mike Chauncey said that he would like to see all four courts rehabilitated. He noted that plans for a field house on the site of at least two of the tennis courts could affect the project. He said he wasn’t prepared to wait “two or three years” on the field house.
Mayor Williams said that it is his belief that the field house has a chance to move forward in a more timely fashion. He said the Hamilton County Commission could appropriate as much as $150,000 in this year’s budget for a structure and $300,000 for a new track.
“I think we will know something when the county approves its budget,” he said.
The council instructed Mr. Wilson to negotiate with Competition Athletic Surfaces to revamp the four courts for $25,000, the amount budgeted for the project. If the company can’t agree on that, go forward with just two courts at the original cost.
The council agonized over cancelling its regularly scheduled meeting for April 25. Mayor Williams said he would be out of town and there is a good chance that Vice Mayor Esther Helton would be away on state business at the Tennessee General Assembly.
Attorney Litchford said the meeting could go forward with a quorum of three council members present. However, during the meeting the council would have to vote on a Chairman Pro Tem, a temporary chairman to run the meeting in the absence of the mayor and vice mayor.
A sticking point was the fact that a public meeting is on the agenda for the April 25 meeting for the rezoning of property on Weldon Avenue. There would also be the first reading of an ordinance to rezone the property. If the meeting were cancelled, public notice would have to be given again in a local newspaper.
It was noted by Vice Mayor Helton that the City Charter requires only one meeting per month. In the end, the council voted to pull the plug on the April 25 meeting.