On Thursday morning, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly made a joint announcement that funds had been allocated to build a new multi-million dollar stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts on the old Wheland Foundry site. Notice I said funds had been allocated. The proposal still needs approval by both the Hamilton County Commission and the City of Chattanooga city council as well. Even though there is some opposition, the measure should pass easily.
I had breakfast Thursday morning with County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who is against the measure....not against the Lookouts getting a new stadium but against how it will be paid for.
He hopes that his fellow commissioners have done their homework as he has, so they can all make a good decision. A new stadium is imperative for the city to hang on to their minor league franchise, one they've held since 1976. That's when a group of investors led by Woody and Mark Reid brought the team back to town after several years of no baseball at old Engel Stadium. Everyone was very excited when the team opened play in April of 1976, and the team did well and drew well, There was always a good crowd to see the team play.
We don't want to have to do that again. Major League Baseball has put out specific instructions as to what minor league stadiums will look like or they will pull the franchise. Time was running out for the Lookouts who have played at their present site on Hawk Hill since the late 1990s. When it opened, it was a really nice facility but almost a quarter of a century later it's outdated and no longer practical for a class AA minor league franchise. In addition to the new stadium, there will be hotels, housing, restaurants, and office buildings on the site. There will be no youth athletic fields as I had proposed several weeks ago. While the county seems to be completely happy with the plans, the City of Chattanooga recognizes the need for more and better youth fields.
The Rec league ballparks are old, outdated and in some cases unsafe. While it appears that Rec baseball and softball is on a major decline, giving way to the explosion of select and travel teams, there are still a lot of youngsters who play the game for the love of it. And that's a good thing. While I'm a bit saddened by the fact that the city and county is missing the boat on building a new super sports complex that can host a lot of tournaments drawing teams from all over the country and putting millions of dollars into our local economy, I am happy the eyesore that is the old Wheland Foundry will soon be no more and a new modern stadium and surrounding rec areas with places to eat and live, will be the first thing visitors notice when they come into town from I-24. That's a start but but let's don't stop there. Let's find a similar place for that super sports complex and make that happen as well.
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Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com