Chattanooga Lookouts stadium site on Hawk Hill eyed as possible location for new federal courthouse

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Fans fill the stands at AT&T Field. The Chattanooga Lookouts took on the Mississippi Braves in their home opener on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Fans fill the stands at AT&T Field. The Chattanooga Lookouts took on the Mississippi Braves in their home opener on Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

The site of the Chattanooga Lookouts stadium where minor league baseball players have been pitching and hitting for more than two decades is now being pitched to the federal government for what officials say could be a big hit for downtown as the home of a planned $200 million-plus federal courthouse.

As the Lookouts prepare to relocate in two years to a new stadium on the south side of downtown, AT&T Field on Hawk Hill — where the Lookouts have played since 2000 — is being considered as the site to house the U.S. District and Bankruptcy courtrooms in Chattanooga.

The U.S. General Services Administration announced in January it is considering the Lookouts stadium site and two other properties in downtown Chattanooga as the potential location for a new federal building. As proposed, the 186,000-square-foot courthouse structure would be the biggest building erected downtown in more than a decade.

Congress has authorized $218.4 million for a replacement for the Joel Solomon Federal Building on Georgia Avenue, which was constructed more than 90 years ago and no longer meets today’s security and accessibility standards for federal courthouses.

Chattanooga’s Sports Authority board on Monday ratified plans to allow the General Services Administration to conduct soil tests and other evaluations of the 13-acre baseball site to help assess whether it is well suited for a courthouse.

Hicks Armor, chairman of the city Sports Authority, said the move Monday does not indicate any intent to sell the stadium site for the new courthouse. But he said he has given General Services clearance to consider the site and make an offer if the property is deemed the best for the downtown federal building.

“It’s almost as if someone knocked on your door wanting to buy your house,” Armor said during Monday’s meeting of the Sports Authority. “This gives them the right to do a home inspection to see if they are interested.”

The agreement also requires General Services or its representatives to give at least 48 hours advance notice of when they will be conducting the site analysis to avoid conflicts with the existing use of the property.

“They won’t be wandering around the outfield during the middle of a ballgame,” Chattanooga City Attorney Phil Noblett told Sports Authority board members Monday.

  photo  Staff file photo / The Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Chattanooga is shown downtown in 2019.

Downtown sites

The General Services Administration is also reviewing a site along Georgia Avenue between Eighth Street and M.L King Boulevard and another site on part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Chattanooga Office Complex for the new federal courthouse. The site studies and subsequent public input on the new project are expected to take most of this year and could stretch into 2024, according to Kevin Kerns, the acting regional administrator for General Services in Atlanta.

In an announcement in January, Kerns said the Lookouts stadium, part of the TVA office complex and the Georgia Avenue parking lot just a block away from the current federal building are the three sites on General Services’ short list of locations for the new building.

“We look forward to delivering a successful project for the court, the American people and the city of Chattanooga,” Kerns said in an announcement of the three sites in January.

General Services is seeking 2 to 5 acres of downtown property and would like to secure most of an entire downtown block for the new courthouse to build a new facility that allows prisoners and others to enter the building through a secured underground entrance. The new courthouse, once completed, will consist of seven courtrooms and nine chambers.

Federal judges and prosecutors in Chattanooga have been urging General Services to build a new federal courthouse in Chattanooga for more than three decades, according to former U.S. District Court Judge Harry “Sandy” Mattice Jr.

Hawk Hill

The Hawk Hill site is owned and controlled by the city’s Sports Authority, which has leased the site to the Lookouts since former team owner Frank Burke built the $10.2 million baseball stadium on Hawk Hill in April 2000. Sitting along Highway 127 and overlooking both downtown and the Tennessee River, Hawk Hill previously housed the Kirkman Vocational School for 63 years before the downtown technical school was closed in 1991.

The city acquired the Hawk Hill stadium site from the River City Co. more than two decades ago to help facilitate the building of a new Lookouts baseball stadium. The team previously played at Engel Stadium near Erlanger hospital. River City still has the right to repurchase the Hawk Hill property for $200 if and when the Lookouts stadium is relocated to another site, Noblett said.

Richard Johnson, a member of the Sports Authority board, said the action to allow General Services to assess the stadium site for a new courthouse “does not indicate any preference” by the Sports Authority about what should be the use of the site once the baseball team has vacated the property for its new location at the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site off South Broad Street.

Ray Adkins, a retired Army colonel and board member for the American Legion post that owns part of the Georgia Avenue site being considered for the new courthouse, said local American Legion chapter members also recently authorized General Services to consider their property for the new courthouse.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is offering a portion of its downtown power headquarters south of Broad Street for the new courthouse complex. TVA built its Chattanooga Office Complex in 1986, but the utility has shifted most of its office staff to remote work and will soon relocate the power operations center now housed downtown to a new $300 million facility being built by TVA in Meigs County.

Contact Dave Flessner at or 423-757-6340.

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