An owner of the 141-acre former foundry site off South Broad Street says he can envision "a mini-SunTrust Park" holding not just a minor league baseball stadium but housing and retail space.
"We'd welcome it on our site," said Chattanooga businessman Gary Chazen on Wednesday, comparing a potential new baseball and mixed-use complex there with what the Atlanta Braves erected as part of its new park in Cobb County, Ga.
That idea is likely to come up today when stakeholders in a 10-square-block area around South Broad gather for the first of two meetings that are expected to guide the area's future.
Mayor Andy Berke, who took an hour-long walk-through of the former Wheland/U.S. Pipe foundry parcel on Wednesday, said the concept of a possible new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium is why city officials and others want to hear from citizens.
"It's certainly a site where you could see entertainment, but we need to hear from the community about what they want," he said.
Asked if there could be a public role concerning a new stadium, Berke said that "We'll just have to see what people want. I always take that very seriously."
But, he said, he's in regular communication with the Lookouts owners who've expressed interest in putting the team in other locations in Chattanooga.
"They're committed to Chattanooga," the mayor said, adding that incorporating mixed use with a stadium is the modern model.
The Lookouts owners have said the current 6,300-seat stadium near Chattanooga's riverfront has an expiration date.
"If you don't build a ballpark the right way, its shelf life is very short," owner Jason Freier said to the Times Free Press last October.
Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey said the meetings this week will "bring everybody to the table" and "let their voices be heard."
Redevelopment on the foundry site would bring in a lot of tax revenue, he said.
In terms of a new Lookouts stadium complex, Mackey said if it will "advance the ball down the field, bring them over here." But, he said, he favors multi-purpose uses.
"Let's bring homes. Let's bring retail," Mackey said, not just recreation but uses that could attract tourists as well. A possible hotel on the tract could offer picturesque views of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, he said.
Chazen, whose ownership group bought the foundry site more than a decade and a half ago, said a potential baseball complex could be used hundreds of times a year, something that can't be done at the existing Lookouts park.
"It would be a centerpiece in the facility. They're really great catalysts," said Chazen about new minor league ballparks in some other cities.
Berke said he took part in the walk-through because he wants to highlight the redevelopment of brownfield sites in the city.
"This happens to be one of the premiere examples," he said, adding that the city has budgeted for a brownfield coordinator.
"They can become job centers or new housing sites," Berke said.
Eric Myers, executive director of the Chattanooga Design Studio, which is overseeing the planning effort, said the "visioning workshops" will involve a much larger area than just the foundry property, including the Southside Gardens neighborhood and the South Market Street district around Howard School.
"There are significant changes afoot for each portion of the district," he said about the area bounded by the old foundry land, Interstate 24, Howard School and Chattanooga Creek.