Opinion: Lookouts stadium backers need to help themselves


Members of the Hamilton County State Legislative Delegation may have opened the door a bit for sales tax sharing to help build a new ballpark for the Chattanooga Lookouts last week, but we think there is plenty of room for others to walk through the same door.

Specifically, we’d like to see team owner Jason Freier and other team investors shell out some of the money to fund the $86.5 million stadium in the South Broad area, or find other private investors who will.

To date, according to newspaper records, the only private money reportedly pledged to the stadium so far is $19.6 million in rental payments by the minor league team playing there and $10 million dollars in land contributed for the project.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County officials have requested $13.5 million in state contributions, similar to what minor league team owner Randy Boyd – who is also the system’s chairman University of Tennessee – won for its plan to relocate the Smokies team from Sevierville to Knoxville and build a new stadium and associated commercial and residential development there.

The difference is that Boyd owns or purchased all of the properties on which this city’s development would occur, pledged $142 million in development by private investors, and said he and his development group would cover any cost overruns from the Stadium.

(By the way, the builders of Boston’s venerable Fenway Park, built in 1912, and Chicago’s beloved Wrigley Field, built in 1914, must be laughing somewhere seeing the replacements needed for the Tennessee Titans’ stadium, which has opened in 1999, Sevierville Stadium, which opened in 2000, and AT&T Field of the Lookouts, which opened in 2000.)

Members of Hamilton County’s legislative delegation haven’t really warmed to the idea of ​​state money going to a new Lookouts stadium, saying that since the start of the legislative session they haven’t been enough detail about the project, there hasn’t been enough private money pledged and that the state gets involved in funding private companies doesn’t fit the conservative nature of the legislature led by the republicans.

But State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told This Page last week ‘we’ve always argued that they can have the TIF (tax increase funding) money inside the stadium “, which means that taxes on food, souvenirs, programs, etc. less a portion for schools – could be used to repay bonds that will be used to build the stadium.

“But that’s all,” he said.

Gardenhire and state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood also argued that $35 million in state money is already going towards building an interstate interchange that will serve the immediate area.

In addition, local officials had asked the state to cover $7 million for the environmental cleanup of the stadium grounds, but Gardenhire said the land owners had been saying for years that they would take care of the remediation. ground.

So where are things?

Gardenhire and Hazlewood have a bill in the Legislature that drops the people in state laws on sports authorities allowed to use TIF funds for counties with a population of 360,000, which would include Hamilton County.

“That’s all this bill does,” he said, adding that he believed the bill would pass.

As for the possibility of additional state money coming into the new stadium, Gardenhire have provided two possibilities, one unlikely and one to be determined.

The unlikely possibility is if Gov. Bill Lee, who presented his budget revisions to state lawmakers last week, “takes money out of another pot,” like economic development.

The one to be determined, Gardenhire said, was voiced by state senator Bo Watson, who indicated that if delegation members saw progress next year towards a new stadium, they could review the funding situation. .

In the meantime, the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, which have said in so many words that they will join the legislature on the project, will need to determine what financial commitment, if any, they are willing to make.

“The ball,” Gardenhire said, “is in their court,” meaning any non-state entities that would partner with the project.

We think that’s where he should be at this point.

Team owners, potential investors, and the city and county need to figure out their role, take steps to get the process started, and see what happens.

“All of us in the [legislative] delegation would like to see a new stadium,” Gardenhire said. “We just think there’s a better way to pay for it” than some $20 million in state money.

To rephrase a phrase that many think is in the Bible, but it isn’t: good things happen to those who help themselves. We think this is good advice for players pushing for a stadium to be built in the South Broad area.


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