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Proposed Legislation Could Affect Lookouts’ Ballpark Pitch

Chattanooga Lookouts

A pair of proposed bills could affect certain projects in Tennessee, including the new ballpark plan for the Chattanooga Lookouts (Class AA; Southern League). 

The Lookouts and local officials have been considering a 141-acre former Wheland/U.S. Pipe foundry property and surrounding area as the site of a new ballpark that would serve as anchor for other amenities. The project would provide a replacement for the Lookouts’ AT&T Field. While some details about the plan still have to come together, the concept for a new Chattanooga ballpark could resemble other projects that Hardball Capital–owners of the Lookouts–has undertaken in recent years, including Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field and Columbia’s Spirit Communciations Park.

However, a pair of bills sponsored by state senator Todd Gardenhire and representative Gerald McCormick could affect the new Lookouts’ ballpark proposal if it requires public funding. Under one bill, Tennessee cities and counties would be required to hold a non-binding public referendum before officials decide whether to use property and sales tax proceeds to pay down debt related to the construction of a sports facility that has a professional team as its tenant. The other bill seeks more specific language about the type of infrastructure projects that can be carried out by local industrial development corporations.

Both bills are just proposals at this point, and the lawmakers say that they are not singling out Chattanooga in the process. More from The Times Free Press:

The bill authorizes taxpayer support in areas like sewer, utilities, roads and power lines. Nothing is included about constructing sports stadiums or ball parks and that was deliberate, Gardenhire and McCormick said in interviews last week.

Both lawmakers emphasized their legislation has statewide impact and isn’t intended to single out Chattanooga where there has been an ongoing public “visioning” process to develop recommendations regarding future redevelopment of a 10-square-block area in the South Broad Street district.

Discussions have included relocating the Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball team from its current site at AT&T Field near the Olgiati Bridge to a 141-acre South Broad Street site that includes the defunct Wheland and U.S. Pipe factories.

The bills, Gardenhire said, would apply “to any proposed project, not specific to picking on that one [South Broad] but any proposed project whether it’s here, or Nashville or Memphis or Knoxville where they want to use taxpayers’ money for a stadium.”

Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier has previously said that a new Lookouts’ ballpark and related investment could be “a game-changer” for the area, and the facility would be expected to anchor a larger development plan. That is similar to what has unfolded in Fort Wayne and Columbia, as development has taken place around both venues since their respective openings in 2009 and 2016. Both of those ballparks were constructed as part of public-private partnerships.

RELATED STORIES: Details on Chattanooga Lookouts Ballpark Plan UnveiledFreier: New Foundry-Area Ballpark Could Be Chattanooga “Game Changer”New Lookouts Ballpark Could be an Option for Foundry SiteFreier: New Lookouts Ballpark Could Be “Win, Win, Win”

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