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Staff file photo / Eve Hermann and Nick York walk Caboose in Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.

This story was updated Wednesday, August 18, 2021, at 6:33 p.m. with more information.

Some Chattanooga City Council members are weighing how much separation should exist between art and sports if proposed athletic fields go up next to the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.

Council Chairman Chip Henderson said he has surprisingly received a lot of opposition from people in his district to a proposal to lease 13 acres at Montague Park to the Chattanooga FC Foundation for soccer and other sports.

Sculpture Fields supporters are fighting the proposed lease and saying the two uses don't fit. They want the 13 acres to expand the Sculpture Fields rather than the adjacent land be leased for building fields for use for soccer, rugby, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee.

"Is it possible to put a buffer?" Henderson asked Tuesday at the panel's agenda session when the issue arose, telling the CFC Foundation's director that a lot of people are concerned about its activities conflicting with the passive nature of the Sculpture Fields.

Krue Brock, who directs the foundation, said there's a 20-foot berm or natural barrier that already exists at the park off East 23rd and Polk streets.

"We hope to have a trail that connects," he said.

Councilwoman Carol Berz said that while she likes the idea of a berm, she doesn't want to see the two uses separated too much.

"Art is something people should live with," she said. Berz said art shouldn't be "isolated from people who would benefit the most."

The proposed 40-year lease, a $1 annually, is expected to come up for a vote by the city council on Tuesday.

Ken Smith, the council's vice chairman, said he wanted ensure the lease language involves uses for sports in addition to soccer.

Smith said that as the design phase comes about, he hopes to see the lay out of the proposed fields on the 13 acres, adding there's talk about tournaments at the site.

The foundation has a multimillion-dollar proposal for building three fields, a 22,000-square-foot pavilion, restrooms, concessions area, lights and 180 parking spaces, plans show.

Brock said the city would not be expected to commit any funds and the work would be financed through donations to the foundation.

The Sculpture Fields plan calls for new art pieces, a 2,000- to 3,000-seat amphitheater and a welcome center in an $8 million to $10 million project. Sculpture Fields has a 40-year lease on about 33 acres at the park.

William J. Overend, chairman of the Sculpture Fields board, said in a letter this week that the juxtaposition of the boisterousness of youth soccer fields with the serenity of the park is not in the best interest of either the park or youth soccer.

"Soccer will result in large crowds of youths who, when unsupervised, can potentially both damage the sculptures and harm themselves in the process," he said. "The planned night games with their noise and lights will make an amphitheater an impossibility, assuming a lack of parking does not do the same."

He said the Sculpture Fields supporters regret that they've have been put in a position of competing with a youth organization.

"This was not of our doing," he said. "Political forces at work have brought the situation to its current state."

The city had issued a request for proposals related to the parcel at the park under former Mayor Andy Berke. A team of people last year reviewed proposals, including the Sculpture Fields', and the CFC Foundation's was picked late last year.

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly is a co-founder of Chattanooga Football Club and was its chairman until he stepped down after winning a runoff election for political office in April.

Brock, who directs the nonprofit foundation, has said there's "a complete firewall" between the CFC and the foundation.

He said the programming of the planned fields at Montague would be similar to what the foundation manages at Highland Park Commons in the Highland Park neighborhood. Brock said around 1,000 people a week play there.

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

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