Chattanooga Lookouts owner to donate AT&T Field stadium to River City Co.

Chattanooga Lookouts owner to donate AT&T Field stadium to River City Co.

November 27th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Frank Burke

AT&T Field is the home of the Chattanooga Lookouts.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga Lookouts owner Frank Burke plans to donate the AT&T Field stadium to River City Co., attorneys said, making a future deal for the sale of the team franchise more attractive for a potential buyer.

Attorneys J. Nelson Irvine and Mike St. Charles revealed Tuesday that Burke, who has been trying to sell the team franchise for nearly three years, would transfer ownership of the stadium to the local nonprofit. The announcement was made during a meeting of the city's Sports Authority Board, which had been dissolved but was recently reconstituted. The board met to update the lease agreement among Burke, the city's Sports Authority and River City.

River City officials said at the meeting their hope is that with a newly updated lease agreement, a potential buyer of the Lookouts would want to stay in Chattanooga and not move the team.

"We're very interested in keeping the stadium and the team," River City President Kim White said. "It's a tremendous part of downtown."

In 2000, River City transferred ownership of the land where the 6,362-seat ball field now sits to the city, which created a new entity, the Sports Authority of the city of Chattanooga. This allowed the sports authority to lease the land to Burke to build a privately funded stadium. In exchange, Burke received property tax exemptions. Burke and other owners spent $10.2 million to build AT&T field and relocate his team from Engel Stadium.

Since late December 2010, Burke has been trying to sell the Class AA team as he and family members settle the estate of their late father. So far two potential deals have fallen through, one as recently as July.

Irvine told the board the latest unsuccessful sale attempt prompted Burke to seek an updated lease.

Last week, the Chattanooga City Council reappointed members to the Sports Authority Board. Seven people - Bill Lockhart, Vince Butler, T. Hicks Armor, Demetrus Menifee, Ray Adkins, Tony Sanders and Morris Chapman - were nominated last Tuesday, but two City Council members didn't name their nominees in time.

Two of the newly appointed board members had to be excused minutes into the meeting because they lived outside Chattanooga city limits.

The rest of the new board voted to update the lease agreement, which officials said better outlines the responsibilities between the different parties and is a binding agreement for any future buyer.

The franchise team owner will still be responsible for the upkeep of the stadium and the plaza with the escalators.

Under the old lease, RiverCity could retain the right to repurchase the stadium property for $200. Officials have agreed under the updated lease not to repurchase the property until three years after the stadium ceases to be the home ball field for a Southern League Minor League baseball franchise.

On Tuesday, Burke didn't reveal whether he had any potential buyers now.

"We are working on it, but at this time no sale is imminent," said Burke, who has owned the Lookouts since 1995.

Staff writer David Paschall contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.