Foundry owners seek master developer in possible Lookouts facility, other development

Foundry owners seek master developer in possible Lookouts facility, other development

June 20th, 2018 by Mike Pare in Local Regional News

Staff file photo by Doug Strickland / Chattanooga Design Studio Executive Director Eric Myers walks into an old U.S. Pipe foundry building last year. The studio's South Broad District study suggests new housing, commercial and retail space, upgraded parks, streets, sidewalks and a sports and entertainment facility to serve as a catalyst for development.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

“If the Lookouts leave the stadium, we'd take that opportunity to look at that parcel.”
Amy Donahue of River City Co. about the existing AT&T Field property.

ABOUT THE SITE

A Chattanooga group bought Wheland Foundry, set between South Broad Street and I-24, after the business shut down in 2003 following 136 years of operation. Three years later, the adjacent U.S. Pipe business closed after more than a century. The group purchased that site, too, giving them 141 acres just outside downtown.

The owners of a huge foundry tract off South Broad Street that could hold a new Chattanooga Lookouts home and housing and retail space are seeking a master developer to oversee future work.

POLL: Should the Lookouts ballpark move to the Southside?

"We're seeking site developers who have experience with these kinds of overall undertakings," said Mike Mallen, part of the group holding the 141-acre former Wheland and U.S. Pipe properties.

Mallen said there could be interest by developers in an overall undertaking or a more phased-in approach.

During the summer, the local group may host site visits by interested parties, he said. They'll then review the results of the request for proposals and go from there, Mallen said.

"The idea is to let it filter through to the end of the summer," he said. "We've got it distributed to what I consider large regional and national experts."

A new South Broad District plan has suggested a multi-use sports and entertainment facility for the foundry parcel. The report foresees an array of new housing along with commercial and retail space, upgraded parks, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, including the new minor league ballpark and entertainment facility to serve as a catalyst for development.

John Woods, a partner in the Lookouts, said the group "absolutely" is still interested in the foundry site. He said the group has been in meetings with Chattanooga political leaders and the River City Co., which provided the land where the existing AT&T Field is located near downtown's riverfront.

Woods added that the Lookouts group has never talked about moving the team if a new stadium isn't constructed.

But AT&T Field, built nearly 20 years ago, wasn't designed or constructed to the standards of today's stadiums, according to the Lookouts group. Costing about $9 million and built by former Lookouts owner Frank Burke, it has become a dated ballpark earlier than others raised at the same time because of the way it was designed and the amount of money used to construct it, according to the group.

Amy Donahue, River City's director of marketing and communication, said the downtown nonprofit redevelopment group helped the foundry site's owners put together its request for proposals for master developers.

"We've put together a lot of RFPs," she said. "It helps them make sure they're getting the right kind of folks."

Donahue said River City also has a stake in the potential outcome because of its ownership position in the AT&T Field land.

"If the Lookouts leave the stadium, we'd take that opportunity to look at that parcel," she said.

River City also owns adjacent parking lots and officials likely would eye what to do with all that space, Donahue said.

According to River City, the AT&T Field property is in the name of a sports authority and it does not pay property taxes. The deal was set up that way with the same legislation that allowed the Tennessee Titans' stadium in Nashville and others across the state to get built at the time. River City said it put the property into the deal at no cost to the then-Lookouts owner because it would help downtown.

If the Lookouts move, the existing team owners would have to tear down the stadium and River City would pay the sports authority a nominal fee to get the property back in its name, according to River City.

Mallen said development in the South Broad District and along the riverfront would open up a new pipeline of revenue to the city.

"That's a double victory," he said.

Mallen said a new sports and entertainment facility could serve as "an iconic gateway feature" for the site as motorists on Interstate 24 come into Chattanooga.

Also, new apartment, office and retail space developers will want to be around the facility, he said the South Broad study showed.

"If you get a sports facility, it brings development along with it," Mallen said, mentioning what has occurred in Cobb County, Georgia, near the Atlanta Braves' new ballpark.

Lookouts officials have cited what they've done in other cities, forming "public-private partnerships" to drive their projects.

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