Ballpark would anchor housing, retail and green space in South Broad District plan

A photo of a rending on display during the South Broad District planning meeting at Calvary Chapel on Thursday, Sept. 14, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter)

An early blueprint of the South Broad District's future unveiled last Thursday includes a multi-use minor league baseball park anchoring an array of housing and new retail and green space.

"It has the potential to be a catalyst of other development," Noell Consulting's David Laube said about a possible new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium and entertainment venue. "You can make them more than just a ballpark."

The preliminary vision for the 10-square-block district also called for better connecting Howard School with the rest of the area, and potentially adding a new middle school.

An expanded Harris Johnson Park, a potential greenway along Chattanooga Creek, a mix of new housing in Southside Gardens and improvements to Broad Street and other traffic arteries in the area were also among highlights of the plan.

The 141-acre foundry property, now mostly vacant, would hold the potential ballpark and undergo vast changes, according to planners. Planners said the ballpark, which could replace the existing downtown AT&T Field, could serve as a gateway feature to Chattanooga for motorists arriving from Nashville on Interstate 24.

A slew of possible new developments ranging from housing, commercial space, light industrial uses and a park were pictured springing up around the stadium. Laube said that, based on what has happened at a half dozen other minor league parks built over the past decade or so around the South, about 1.1 million square feet of new development is projected around a new Chattanooga ballpark.

City Councilman Erskine Oglesby lauded the work done on the plan so far. A final draft is due at the end of October.

"Revitalization needed to start heading south of I-24," Oglesby said about the study area, which is bounded by the interstate, the former Wheland/U.S. Pipe foundries, Chattanooga Creek and Howard School.

He said there could be a public role in making the plan come to fruition, which the conservative advocacy group Beacon Center of Tennessee has warned is a poor investment for taxpayers.

"We don't want it to drag along," the councilman said. "When everything's approved, I want to start."

Jason Freier, the Lookouts' operating partner, said he liked that a rendering of the potential stadium showed lots of development around it and not just asphalt.

"If you're going to do it, that's the way to do it," he said. "The ballpark has an opportunity to make it a special place."

John Woods, a Lookouts managing partner, has cited new minor league ballparks with which Freier has been affiliated, in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Columbia, S.C., as having served as catalysts for redevelopment.

The existing Lookouts park, which holds about 6,300 people, was expected to draw between 230,000 and 240,000 people this year. Freier said the Fort Wayne stadium attracted 379,000 people for just baseball its first year, and the park is doing hundreds of other events.

But not everyone was in favor of seeing a new ballpark at the site.

Aubrey Fritz said he worked at Wheland Foundry for 13 years before it was shut down, and he attended Kirkman Technical High School, where AT&T Field now sits near the riverfront. Fritz said he'd like to see a new technical school built at the foundry site to help young people better enter the workforce.

Ann Weeks, a leader in the South Broad Redevelopment Group, didn't take a position on the stadium. But, she said, the planning process and what may come out of it is what the group has been working for over a number of years.

Eric Myers, who directs the Chattanooga Design Studio, said it's too early to place price tags on any of the proposals.

"We're still receiving public input," said Myers, who proposed the study and whose studio is funding the planning initiative and overseeing the efforts of consultants.