A panel overseeing the planned construction of a new multiuse ballpark in Chattanooga agreed Thursday to the start of soil borings and environmental work related to specifically where the stadium will sit on old foundry land.
Also, a Chattanooga Lookouts official said he expects the ballpark to hold 5,000 to 6,000 fixed seats, but it would have a larger footprint and potentially accommodate upwards of 9,000 people. Aging AT&T Field near Chattanooga's riverfront, where the Lookouts now play, seats 6,382.
Jermaine Freeman, senior adviser for economic opportunity for Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, told the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Sports Authority that geo-technical, environmental and survey work at the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site off Broad Street will enable officials to select an exact stadium location.
He said the work should start within the next couple of weeks. Freeman said in an interview after the five- to 10-minute Sports Authority meeting the general site of the Lookouts stadium will be just south of 26th Street and where some existing foundry structures stand on the 120-acre foundry parcel.
Panel attorney Phil Noblett said at the meeting that it's important there are no environmental concerns where the minor league ballpark will go.
He said the city will be reimbursed for what it spends on companies to do the actual work after bonds are issued to finance the construction of the facility.
"We'd pay back the city," Noblett said.
Freeman told the panel that eventually there will be an agreement in which the foundry property owners will donate land for the stadium site in the South Broad District.
Lookouts President Rich Mozingo said in an interview the actual design of the planned stadium hasn't started yet. But he said that will happen after the exact location is determined.
Meanwhile, Freeman said officials are still a few months away from going to the bond market to finance the project, but the plan remains to issue no more than $80 million. He also said an earlier April time frame officials gave for a groundbreaking is on track.
Lookouts officials have said they'd like to start the 2025 baseball season at the new park.
Kelly told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in an interview Thursday he wishes work had begun at this point, but there still could be a groundbreaking by this spring.
"Do I wish that it was already cranking along? Yes," Kelly said. "But we'll make it work. I have no doubt about that."
Despite rising interest rates and construction costs since the stadium was approved by city and county leaders last summer, Kelly said he remains optimistic an effective, multipurpose stadium can be built to help propel the growth of the area within the amount allocated for the project.
"With the interest rates where they are, some of this also has to do with prognosticating and forecasting the bond market," Kelly said. "We don't want to do the issue when we might have to pay more than we would like to for this money. We continue to make progress toward a community benefits agreement, and I don't think there are any serious disagreements in where we are headed."
City and county officials last year approved creation of a special tax district around the planned stadium on the old foundry site.
Most of the new property tax revenue from a 470-acre tax 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 up to $80 million in bonds for the project, officials have said.
City and county officials have said they initially expect $350 million in new development in the tax district over a 30-year period, but Kelly has said $1 billion or more is anticipated.
Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.