Developers of the planned Chattanooga Lookouts stadium have chosen its footprint on the old U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site, picking a location to maximize the reuse of its historic buildings in the design, officials said Thursday.
"They will make it different than any other minor league stadium," said Jim Irwin, president of Atlanta-based New City Properties and the master developer of the 120-acre tract, about mixing the buildings into the ballpark's site between where West 26th and West 28th streets intersect the parcel.
Irwin said at a meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Sports Authority that some of the 5,000 to 6,000 permanent seats will be incorporated into one of the existing foundry structures on the first baseline.
Also, he said, the multiuse ballpark in the South Broad District will be situated so game-day patrons will have their backs to the late afternoon sun and solve a key complaint about the current AT&T Field on downtown's waterfront.
In addition, Irwin said, plans are for one of the envisioned new buildings around the stadium near Interstate 24 to offer a signature welcoming gateway into Chattanooga for motorists coming from Nashville.
Jason Freier, managing owner of the minor league baseball club, said at the meeting that the ballpark will have a 360-degree concourse around the field for spectators, unlike AT&T Field.
"New ballparks have more social seating," he said, permitting up to 9,000 or so patrons into the stadium for events.
Additionally, the playing field itself will be lowered from between 14 feet to 20 feet below grade so the concourse is on ground level. That way, Freier said, people on the first floor or two of buildings that go up around the facility can look into the field and not into steel structures.
Bill Payne, Chattanooga's city engineer, told the panel that a request for qualifications is in process to find an architect for the ballpark. Payne said responses are due May 1. He said the selection of an architect could be made a few weeks later.
Officials have said the Sports Authority created by the county and city would issue up to $79.5 million in bonds to fund construction of a new stadium. But officials said rising inflation is a concern, and it's uncertain when the panel will go out to the bond market.
Irwin said a more firm cost of the stadium will be known after the design process is started and a construction manager is hired later this year.
"We'll have a pretty good handle," he said.
Irwin said excavation could start at the site later this year and that a target for opening for the Lookouts' spring 2025 season are on track.
He said plans are to create "a ring road" around the stadium to move traffic on event days, building on the area's existing transportation network.
"We've been thinking of how do you get 2,500 cars in and out," Irwin said, adding that the aim is to unlock the development potential of the foundry property that's not part of the ballpark.
He said plans are to use surface parking on the site initially. But when new buildings are raised by private developers, parking garages are expected to be used in those structures to free up land, Irwin said.
Gary Chazen of Perimeter Properties, which owns the foundry property, said his group is looking to donate about 8 acres for the stadium. He said he likes the idea of incorporating part of the site's history into the ballpark.
"It brings it all together," he said in an interview. "It's a game-changer."
In 2022, the city and county approved creation of a special tax district around the planned stadium. Most of the new property tax revenue from the district along with Lookouts' lease payments, sales taxes, parking revenues and $1.4 million each from the city and county will pay debt service on 30-year bonds for the project, officials said.
Officials have said that with proposed and new investment around the stadium, upwards of $1 billion or more in new development could go in the area.