With the first year of his ownership of the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League) deemed a success, Jason Freier is looking at more changes to AT&T Field in 2016 while also mulling the obvious issue: a new ballpark.
While AT&T Field is certainly showing its age, it does have some advantages. Being downtown at a time when the Chattanooga economy is on the upswing and looking at redevelopment in the city core is a good, good thing. And with the team signaling to fans that improving the fan experience was part of the front-office DNA, that’s led to a greater acceptance from the local business community. That paid off in 2015, per the Times-Free Press:
“AT&T Field is certainly a viable ballpark,” Freier said this week by phone. “I think we did a few things before this past season to make it better. We updated the suites that hadn’t been touched in 15 years, and now everything in them is new. They’re much more conducive to business entertainment now. I would not have taken a client there before, because the carpets and the paint job and the furniture were all old and musty.
“We fixed that, and we built the deck out in left field that took an area of the ballpark that was not an attractive area to spend time and made it into a place that’s great as far as enjoying the game. We’re looking for more ways to make AT&T Field an exciting and fun place.”
But AT&T Field is an older ballpark, opening in 2000 and not updated for many years. And given that Freier has a particular expertise in building impressive new ballparks that combine facilities with redevelopments, it’s no stretch to wonder if he’ll do the same thing in Chattanooga. Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field is certainly a model for any city wanting to combine development with a new ballpark, and the new-ballpark development in Columbia has the potential to have the same impact. And while there’s no new-ballpark news to report, the game plan is clear: earn the trust of fans before committing to a long-term blueprint
“We’re more focused on the immediacy of showing the fan base that we can make AT&T Field a great place for everyone now,” he said. “I think it has consistently been a good place, but I think we can really kick that up a level. Once we’ve improved the experience and get to know the community a little better, we’ll start to figure that stuff out in terms of real long-term options. Building new stadiums has not been entirely driven by us in any of the markets that we’ve been in before. In Fort Wayne, the city had a piece of land that they had tried for a decade to get some development on. In Columbia, they had 181 acres of land they had been trying to develop for 18 years.
“It never works if it’s only being driven by one side or another, so for us, it’s a matter of if there is an opportunity in a community, and, if so, where is a location that would make sense for both parties? The first ballpark we build that isn’t a win for both sides is probably the last ballpark we build.”