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Staff file photo / Members of the grounds crew cover up the pitching mound on the Chattanooga Lookouts' opening day at AT&T Field last May. Inclement weather forced the game to be postponed.

The Chattanooga Lookouts expect to reveal more local owners in the team in a month or so after a federal judge agreed to let the club buy the share of accused businessman John Woods for $1.87 million.

Jason Freier, managing owner and CEO of the minor league baseball team, also said Thursday that the team remains committed to an upgraded and potentially new stadium to meet the demands of Major League Baseball.

"Nothing has changed with the situation with Major League Baseball," he said. "We've got a limited amount to time to see progress on a new and compliant facility."

Earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge Steven D. Grimberg entered an order approving a request by the Lookouts to buy the 20.1% interest in the team owned by Woods, a Marietta, Georgia, man accused by federal regulators of conducting a massive Ponzi scheme.

The order noted Freier said that it's critical to the future of the club to buy the share "as soon as possible in order to maintain the viability of the Chattanooga Lookouts as a team and its future as an affiliate of Major League Baseball."

Freier said there's a 30-day period after the order was entered by the judge to enable anyone to file an appeal. But he said he doesn't expect anyone will do so.

A. Cotten Wright, the court-appointed receiver in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's action against Woods, has said in court papers that liquidating his interest in the Lookouts would capture the value of that asset.

Also, Freier said the SEC hasn't expressed any objection, nor has any other party in the few weeks since the request was filed with the court.

Should no one appeal, he said he plans to shortly thereafter unveil the names of new local owners buying a piece of the team.

"We want all the 'i's' dotted and the 't's' crossed," Freier said. "We won't name names until the court is done."

He said Major League Baseball also is screening the proposed new members of the ownership group.

"It's a meaningful and significant process," Freier said.

In addition, he said that while Woods' problems have been a distraction for the team, he remains interested in pursuing an upgraded stadium for the team potentially with a public-private partnership.

Such a model occurred in Nashville and in Huntsville, Alabama, and is now taking place in Knoxville, Freier said. There, University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd, owner of the Smokies, is proposing a mixed-use stadium and adjoining development.

The proposed $74.5 million downtown ballpark in Knoxville would be the centerpiece of a huge development project on property owned by Boyd and home to the Smokies, who currently play in Kodak. Boyd has pledged to bring at least $142 million in private money to build 630,000 square feet of restaurants, retail shops and residences around the stadium if Knoxville and Knox County agree to finance a publicly owned facility.

In Chattanooga, the Lookouts avoided the chopping block recently when Major League Baseball undertook a contraction. But the existing Lookouts home at AT&T Field downtown built in 2000 was the primary reason the team was listed among the minor league franchises facing contraction in a November 2019 New York Times article. Major League Baseball is watching to see whether Lookouts owners can enhance AT&T Field or produce a new stadium.

The South Broad District Plan, crafted by the city in 2018, identified the 141-acre former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site as a potential location for a new multi-use facility as part of an array of housing and commercial development. But the team could spend as much as $3 million in AT&T Field enhancements in the interim.

The SEC has charged Woods and the Chattanooga-based Southport Capital investment firm with six counts of securities fraud. The SEC said Woods' Ponzi scheme collected more than $110 million from investors with promises of 6-7% rates of return. But the complaint said the investments "are worth far too little for there to be any realistic prospect that the Ponzi scheme will be able to pay back existing investors their principal, let alone the promised returns."

In 2014, Woods became one of the minority owners of the Lookouts when the group bought the team from longtime owner Frank Burke.

"The Lookouts have no relationship with any of the entities mentioned in the complaint, and we do not expect our operations or future plans to be affected by this development," Freier said.

Woods' Atlanta attorney, David Chaiken, said "the SEC's allegations present only one side of the story."

"We look forward to presenting Mr. Woods' side in court, through the judicial process," Chaiken said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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