Redevelopment will 'happen quick' around new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium, planner says

THUMBNAIL ONLY. Lookouts master planner stadium
photo Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Jim Irwin, president of New City Properties in Atlanta, answers questions at the Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe site on June 30, 2022. Behind Irwin, who would serve as master developer of the site, are Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, left, and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Redevelopment of the former foundry site around a new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium will take place without a lot of delay should the proposal move ahead, the project's master developer said.

"Once everybody sees the public investment, it will happen quick," Jim Irwin, the president of Atlanta-based New City Properties, said in an interview last week.

He cited initial plans by Nashville-based Core Development for $150 million in new residential and commercial space on an 11-acre portion of the 120-acre tract.

Irwin will serve as master developer of the Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe tract. In a deal worked out with landowner Perimeter Properties, he said he'll look at the best uses of each part of the sprawling site that sits between Broad Street and Interstate 24.

"We'll master plan 100% of the area," the developer said.

Infrastructure, street grids, trees, and bike lanes will be knitted together, said Irwin.

"We'll look at the appropriate use for each block," he said. That will include combining the foundry site with the rest of the city around it, Irwin said, adding he foresees several public park spaces within the project.

At the same time, Irwin said he'll work on what he termed "vertical development," where new residential, retail, office and other commercial space may go up. He'll work with developers and craft guidelines for the foundry property, he said. He'll also look at his company doing work there, too, Irwin said.

Several new projects hopefully will include old foundry buildings that will be preserved in some fashion, he said.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said previously that the Chattanoga Lookouts would become the anchor tenant in "an incredible opportunity to revitalize and reinvest. It's a golden opportunity."

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said the proposal isn't just about the ballpark but rather potentially attracting more than $1 billion in new investment.

"It's about the development," he said.

Irwin, 43, a married father of three, said that what he really likes is "telling great stories" through the developments with which he associates.

"These structures will never be built again," he said.

One site that Irwin has been involved is the Ponce City Market in Atlanta where a 2.1 million-square-foot former Sears distribution facility built in the 1920s was converted into a popular location with a food hall, shops and living space. He said the site, developed by the Jamestown group for whom he had worked, has become one of the most visited destinations in Atlanta annually.

He believes the Ponce City Market site has a lot of similarities to the foundry footprint.

"It was a part of the city that lay fallow," Irwin said.

Ponce City Market and the immediate neighborhood has drawn about $3 billion in private sector investment, he said.

"The ingredients are there on the [foundry] site to create real meaningful community interaction," Irwin said.

The multiuse stadium, which Lookouts officials said could draw hundreds of events annually, would serve as a catalyst for future development, he said.

"We create the chicken and the egg at the same time," Irwin said. "I don't think it's rocket science. Adaptive reuse allows us to build something unique."

If the stadium plan receives approval, the new facility could be ready for the Lookouts' opening day in spring 2025, officials said.

The Chattanooga City Council and Hamilton County Commission still need to sign off, and Republican county mayoral candidate Weston Wamp has been critical of the funding proposal and the speed with which it's moving. In addition, Wamp has released survey results showing opposition to the proposed stadium.

The proposal by the city and county mayors calls for using public and private money for the multiuse stadium, financed by the sale of 30-year bonds for $79.4 million. Including the value of 8 to 9 acres of donated property by the landowner, the project is estimated by officials at $89 million to $94 million.

To help repay the bonds, the proposal calls for creation of a special district to capture future taxes at the site. Proceeds from the tax-increment funding district would cover an estimated 63% of the cost of the repayment of the bonds, officials said.

Also, the Lookouts would sign a 30-year lease for use of the stadium starting at $1 million annually with increases over the period. The Lookouts would handle maintenance, officials said.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.