published Monday, May 17th, 2010

Wiedmer: Lupton’s saw value of Lookouts - Audio

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Jack Lupton appeared before the Hamilton County Commission in December 1985 to serve as a “cheerleader” for a public/private effort that would encourage riverfront development and other steps to make Chattanooga the best mid-sized city in America.

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Frank Burke

You don't need to turn to the Chattanooga sports scene to appreciate how much we'll all miss Jack Lupton.

The man's fingerprints, footprints and outsized shadow stretch far beyond his Honors Course golfing masterpiece in Ooltewah. They're on everything from the Tennessee Aquarium to Baylor School to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

No man may be irreplaceable, but Lupton's lifelong impact on the Scenic City is close in ways both big and small, known and unknown, both concrete and abstract.

What many may not know about Lupton, whom we lost Sunday afternoon at the age of 83, is the role he had in keeping the Chattanooga Lookouts here.

In the late 1990s, Lookouts owner Frank Burke was struggling to make a profit at historic but haggard Engel Stadium. It would take millions to fix the place, arguably throwing good money after bad, and it shouldn't be lost on all those Engel loyalists that nearly 15 years later the crumbling structure has only gotten worse.

But not everyone in town either believed or backed Burke's assertion that he would have to move the team or leave town if a different site couldn't be found for a new minor league ballpark.

He even had a favorite place in mind — Hawk Hill, once the home of Kirkman High, and arguably the most coveted piece of property left in the downtown area since it overlooked the Aquarium and the Tennessee River.

Burke's problem, however, was in convincing the RiverCity Company, which controlled Hawk Hill, to sell him the land for a baseball stadium, since RiverCity was looking for a business that would get the most out of the property for 12 months a year.

Yet Burke also knew that RiverCity would probably listen if Lupton liked his plan for the place.

“I went to see him with my idea for Hawk Hill,” said Burke late Sunday night. “He listened. He believed in it, and he helped push it forward.”

Said an anonymous RiverCity representative at the time, “Mr. Lupton told us, ‘You might be here another 10 or 15 years waiting for the perfect business to come along and it might never come along. A new ballpark now is much better than having it remain vacant for 10 more years.’”

It is worth noting that Lupton provided zero financial assistance to Burke. He gave only his blessing, which was all that was needed.

So Burke got his ballpark, the facility now known as AT&T Field opening in 2000 and overlooking the Aquarium and the bridges to the North Shore. The city continued to grow. Lupton's magic touch delivered another overwhelming success story.

You can say he had the power and the money, so why not use it for the common good? And we have been unusually blessed in this town to have so many other families — the Guerrys, Probascos and Davenports foremost among them — to give back more than they got.

But that doesn't make the philanthropic gestures of Lupton any less remarkable or laudable. We'll get to watch the NCAA men's golf championship at the Honors the first week of June — its second time here — because of Lupton. We toasted a U.S. Amateur over that same stunning tract of land because of Lupton.

Hundreds of thousands yearly flock to the Aquarium and AT&T Field because of Lupton, and pretty much solely because of Lupton's vibrant and versatile visions for his hometown.

“I was always impressed,” said Burke, “at how strongly he believed in Chattanooga and how much he cared about making Chattanooga a better place than he found it.”

A much, much better place, as it turned out.

Continue reading by following this link to a related story:

Article: Jack Lupton, philanthropist, civic leader, dies

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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