Although they don't yet know the exact price, members of the Chattanooga City Council saw a series of renderings Tuesday for a new multiuse stadium planned in the South Broad District. The renderings preserve historic elements of the property while also making the Tennessee Riverwalk its "front door."
Jim Irwin, the founder and president of New City Properties in Atlanta, is the master developer for the project and told council members the stadium remains on track for completion in 2025. It will replace the Chattanooga Lookouts' existing minor league baseball stadium on Hawk Hill.
"It is amazing to see how the stadium has really come together and how we've been able to integrate it into the community," Irwin told reporters after the meeting. "That's one thing that we're really committed to doing, and it's not just building like an island of concrete in a sea of asphalt. Instead, it becomes a walkable, bikeable, year-round venue for the entire city."
Officials will integrate the Tennessee Riverwalk, a multiuse path along the Tennessee River, into the concourse of the stadium so that the walkway becomes the "front door" to the site, Irwin said.
Inside the stadium, the developers plan to lower the field by 20 feet so the concourse remains level with the Riverwalk, and although that type of earthwork can take time, Irwin said officials are working to accelerate that so they can open on time for the beginning of the minor league baseball season in April 2025.
Irwin said this will also help with cleaning up the land, which is contaminated.
Located on the old U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry property, the stadium will incorporate lingering historic structures like the power house and the pattern shop, where molten metal was poured to create pipes and fittings. Those would be available as congregating spaces.
Schematics for the site also show an approximately 300-unit residential building that will sit by the field. Additionally, there's 49,000 square feet of office space and 15,000 square feet of retail in that footprint. Irwin said developers are laying the groundwork for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of private development around the property.
There will be between 5,000 and 6,000 fixed seats in the stadium, but acknowledging that not all people will come to watch baseball, Irwin expects the building could hold nearly 10,000 people.
Crucially, the stadium will be positioned so the sun doesn't set facing home plate, Irwin added, and he expects the stadium will also embrace existing painted graffiti art.
"Where it's artful and appropriate and PG-rated, we're going to save as much of that as we can just because I think it adds an important layer of texture to it," he said.
Irwin said the developers are continuing to work with nearby residents to craft a community benefits agreement, which he expects will be consolidated into a single document.
Officials have met numerous times with the community and Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equity and Benevolence, Irwin said, and one week ago, they shared the first draft, which includes commitments made by the Lookouts, the landowners and developers.
EMJ Construction, a Chattanooga company that also played a key role in building the Atlanta Braves' Truist Park, will serve as the construction manager on the project. EMJ will begin fully pricing the schematic designs in August with the hope of providing a cost estimate in the fall. Irwin said that will offer the first glimpse of the total budget of the project.
The city and Hamilton County have created a joint Sports Authority to issue $79.5 million worth of bonds intended to fund construction of a new multiuse stadium, which officials hope will help spur $1 billion worth of development in that area.
Officials have said more than half of the debt issued for the Chattanooga project, 58%, would be paid back using new property tax revenue -- excluding the portion reserved for schools -- generated by private development around the stadium. That would be produced by a 470-acre special tax district.
Another 22% of the loan would be covered by a $1 million annual lease payment during the next 30 years by the team, and the next largest portion, 12%, would come from state sales tax generated in the new stadium. The remaining cost would be covered by a combination of parking revenue from stadium events, local sales tax generated in the new stadium and $1.4 million apiece from the city and county.
Mayor Tim Kelly's interim chief of staff, Jermaine Freeman, said officials remain committed to only borrowing $79.5 million for the project and adjusting the designs to match that funding level. Officials don't yet know the precise price, he said, and the economy has changed since the special tax district was approved a year ago.
"We have to realize that, because of supply chain issues and labor shortages, costs of construction have gone up," Freeman said in an interview.
The value of ongoing development in that area has also increased, Freeman said, meaning more property tax revenue would be available to cover the debt. The architect, DH&W, and the construction manager, EMJ Construction, will also help officials fine-tune the project so the city and county are getting the best deal for taxpayers, he said.
What happens if the cost of the stadium ends up being greater than $79.5 million?
"I think part of the process is sitting down with the property owners and the developer and the team to figure out how to bridge that gap," Freeman said, "but that's going to require a collaborative process."