After two seasons at the helm of the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League), Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier is discussing the future of AT&T Field and whether a new ballpark is on the horizon.
Hardball Capital and John Woods purchased the Lookouts shortly before the 2015 season, and have worked to upgrade AT&T Field. Some of those enhancements, including an expanded merchandise store and refreshed suites, have helped the operation, but a new ballpark is likely still a part of the equation in Chattanooga.
AT&T Field will serve its 18th season next year, and is currently tied with the Tennessee Smokies’ Smokies Park as the third oldest ballpark in the Southern League. That circuit’s ballpark boom over the last decade or so has meant that the Mobile BayBears’ Hank Aaron Stadium–which opened in 1997–is now its oldest, with second-eldest venue, the Jackson Generals’ The Ballpark at Jackson, opening in 1998.
Hardball Capital and Freier came to Chattanooga with a track record of building new ballparks that sparked adjacent development, a trend that continued this year with the opening of the Columbia Fireflies’ (Low A; Sally League) Spirit Communications Park. For a story in April, we asked Freier if such a project was on the way in Chattanooga, and this was his response: “That’s never been something that’s been driven because of what we need and what we want. The stars also have to align for the city. If and when those stars align in Chattanooga, we will be ready, but it’s something that can’t be forced.”
When comparing AT&T Field to Fort Wayne’s Memorial Stadium, which lasted 16 seasons before making way for Parkview Field, Freier’s remarks were similar to his previous sentiments. More from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
“After 16 years, that park was really dated and in need of replacing,” Freier said. “I have no doubt that AT&T Field is viable for quite a while longer. For us, the driving force behind building a new ballpark in a town is rarely because the existing facility is not viable. I always feel like that if you do a new ballpark, the reason has to be because you have the right circumstance to where that ballpark will add a lot to that community, and by adding a lot, I mean it will help spur meaningful development in an area that might not otherwise see it.
“The commitment we made when we came in was to get in and roll up our sleeves and understand the Chattanooga market well before we can make a decision as to whether it is something in the relatively near future or the much more distant future. I think we’ve started to understand the Chattanooga market, but I don’t know that we’re all the way there yet.”
Under the ownership of Frank Burke, AT&T Field was a privately-financed project at a cost of $10.2 million. We took a closer look at its history during a 2008 visit.