Dangerous conditions have resulted in Engel Stadium being locked up. Recently, the Tennessee Temple baseball team was told to get all of their equipment out of the stadium because it was going to be boarded up. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Deemed a hazard and a liability, the historic Engel Stadium in downtown Chattanooga has been boarded up and locked down by city officials, at least for the near future.
“The locks are changed, and it’s boarded up so that no one will have access to it anymore,” said Greg Bartley, coach of the Tennessee Temple University baseball team, the only team that still played at the dilapidated stadium.
“I’d say it’s a permanent thing unless somebody comes up with a couple million dollars to fix it up,” he said.
The much-beloved but extremely rundown stadium has been in ownership limbo for years, as the city and Hamilton County have worked to finalize a transfer of the stadium’s deed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said Larry Zehnder, director of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department.
But that transfer still is pending state approval, preventing UTC officials from undertaking the needed repairs and renovations, Zehnder said.
“I think everybody is geared toward UTC ownership and their management, but until that happens it’s in limbo,” he said. “While it’s in limbo, it’s a liability issue for the city and the county.”
Zehnder said he advised the Tennessee Temple athletic department of the impending closure about three months ago, when the city’s risk manager recommended it. But the university scheduled games for this season at the field, Zehnder said.
“They didn’t want to believe it,” he said.
Bartley said city officials told him just this week to clean out his team’s equipment before the field was closed. A few weeks ago, the team wasn’t able to practice on the field because of poor conditions, including 4 feet of standing water in the dugout, Bartley said.
“The roof is too dangerous for people to sit under,” said Bartley, who was brought on as Tennessee Temple’s coach last month. “There are homeless people breaking in and staying there. They need to tear down the stadium part and redo the field and make it playable.”
Tennessee Temple will practice and play baseball games at the Rossville recreational park, Bartley said.
Engel Stadium was home to the Chattanooga Lookouts, the city’s minor league baseball team, until the team moved to AT&T Field, then known as BellSouth Park, in 1999.
Hamilton County took over ownership of Engel at the time, but in 2004 the county transferred the deed to UTC, according to Chattanooga Times Free Press archives.
UTC does not have ownership of the structure yet, university spokesman Chuck Cantrell said Tuesday.
The stadium, which hosted its first home game in 1930, was named to the National Register of Historic Places in November 2009. It underwent a $2 million renovation in 1989, according to Times Free Press archives.
The rundown state of the stadium today is disheartening for Bartley, who said he and his wife had their first date at the ballfield. Bartley played for the Lookouts in the 1980s.
“Nobody took care of it. It’s a shame to see what happened to a place that is really special to a lot of people in Chattanooga,” he said.
News of the stadium’s current condition was disappointing for Frank Burke, who has owned the Chattanooga Lookouts since 1995.
“It’s very sad. It’s a great, old place that holds a lot of memories for me. It’s just too bad,” he said.
Steven Hargis and David Paschall contributed to this story.
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...