Chattanooga Lookouts stadium officials to walk foundry site, may issue bonds in 4th quarter of year

Sports Authority may issue bonds in 4th quarter of year

Contributed Rendering / A rendering of the proposed new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium in the South Broad District was unveiled at a meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Sports Authority on April 13.
Contributed Rendering / A rendering of the proposed new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium in the South Broad District was unveiled at a meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Sports Authority on April 13.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County officials overseeing the building of a new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium in the South Broad District and the issuance of bonds later this year to pay for it, plan to walk the proposed old foundry site.

Panel members are to meet possibly in October on the 127-acre parcel between Broad Street and Interstate 24 to see firsthand the layout of the ballpark and some of the rundown buildings that designers plan to integrate into the stadium's design.

"I think it's an excellent idea," said Ann Weeks, a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Sports Authority, at a meeting Thursday.

Jermaine Freeman, interim chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, offered the suggestion to tour the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry tract where the planned new Lookouts stadium is to go up.

"We think it will be a valuable exercise for this body to actually walk around and get a feel for the site," he told the panel. "A lot of it is secluded and cut off."

Jason Freier, the Lookouts managing owner, said that while recent renderings of the ballpark are fine, visiting the property will help provide the board with a sense of scope of the size of the structures.

"These are big, impressive buildings," he said in an interview at the meeting.

Incorporating some of the old foundry buildings into the stadium, which is to hold between 5,000 and 6,000 permanent seats, will make it "one of a kind," Freier said.

"This ballpark will be impossible to reproduce," he said, adding that two of the buildings are more than 100 years old.

There are a couple of ballparks around the nation that used historical buildings in some form in the design, but not to the extent of the planned stadium, the Lookouts owner said.

"It's going to provide a really unique environment for people out there," he said.

Officials earlier said the authority planned to issue up to $79.5 million in bonds to fund construction of the new stadium, but rising inflation is a concern. They've said a more firm cost of the ballpark will be known after the design process has started and a construction manager was on board, which has taken place.

City Engineer Bill Payne expects the project to go to the bond market for financing in the last quarter of this year, he said in an interview.

"We'll work out an exact time as we get further along," he said.

The aim is for the replacement of the existing Lookouts stadium, near the waterfront downtown, to be ready for the opening of the minor league baseball season in spring 2025, Freeman said.

However, officials need to go to the bond market soon because construction is going to start, Freeman said.

INTERIM FINANCING

On Thursday, the authority approved a resolution to allow the city along with foundry landowner Perimeter Properties and Lookouts entity Chattanooga Professional Baseball LLC to provide $3.3 million to pay for the early work of architect DHW and construction manager EMJ Construction. The three would be repaid after the issuance of the bonds, the resolution said.

The interim financing for the preliminary work will help officials determine a better idea of the stadium's total cost, Freeman said.

If the ballpark's cost comes in higher than expected, there will be a chance to value engineer the project and bring down the price tag to an affordable level, he said.

In 2022, the city and county approved the 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.

With proposed and new investment around the stadium, upwards of $1 billion or more in development could go in the South Broad District area, officials have said.

Perimeter Properties in September is to seek a rezoning of its foundry tract that would allow buildings as high as 12 stories and spur more dense development around the planned multiuse stadium.

The foundry land is now zoned manufacturing or urban general commercial, and the request is for form-based code zoning similar to that in much of downtown.

The property owner, Lookouts executives and city and county officials have said they foresee a vibrant mixed-use area around the stadium that would hold commercial and retail space and residences. But that vision for the area doesn't align with the existing zoning, according to the landowner.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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