East Ridge soccer stadiumView 9 Photos
A day after news dropped that a $125 million development would be coming to East Ridge, reaction from local residents and business owners was, for the most part, positive.
For 30 years, Glen Meadows has operated Wally's Restaurant on Ringgold Road just next to Interstate 75, serving Southern comfort staples like mac 'n' cheese, fried chicken and catfish. It's a family affair; his brother operates the other Wally's on McCallie Avenue.
For him, Thursday's announcement was welcome news.
"It looks super exciting," he said Friday. "Of all the things that have been tossed out here ... this one tops them all. This is huge."
At the heart of the project is a $6 million soccer stadium, the brainchild of Chattanooga Red Wolves owner Bob Martino, of Utah.
Located on 100 acres between Spring Creek Road and Interstate 75, it would be the single-largest investment in East Ridge history, creating an expected 1,200 jobs and generating $7 million of additional tax revenue.
The project would start with construction of the 5,500-seat stadium. Restaurants, condos, hotels and bars would be added over time. Martino wants the stadium finished by the start of the 2020 season; the rest would be complete in three to five years.
It's located within the Border Region zone, which allows the city to recapture the growth in sales tax collections within the zone and then plow those funds back into repaying investments in the area, including the stadium.
"I certainly hope it comes to fruition," Meadows said.
And while he is hopeful about the project and potential for the city, he remains cautiously optimistic. He's seen East Ridge — population 21,100 — left behind before.
Years ago, he said, the city got bypassed by development because it couldn't sell liquor by the drink.
"I watched as places that wanted to serve alcohol went down to [Georgia State Route] 2 and went to Gunbarrel. Thirty years ago, Gunbarrel was just getting cranked up."
Then there was the proposed $12 million Splash Valley Water Park and the fireworks legislation that were expected to bring more revenue to the city. The water park never happened and fireworks sales, well, fizzled.
But Meadows said recent development at Exit 1 near Camp Jordan has offered some hope to the area — that things might finally be turning around.
Since Bass Pro Shops came along, he said, it's been great for business.
"There is a tremendous amount more traffic that's generated."
Traffic from Camp Jordan has helped, too.
Is he worried new restaurants will siphon patrons?
"I've weathered the storm," he said. "When I came here 30 years ago, this was one of the highest areas of restaurants ... there were 25 or 30 restaurants that I competed with within a mile. ... I'm up for it. We're established."
Others are also enthusiastic about the proposed development.
East Ridge Mayor Brian Williams celebrated Thursday's announcement, calling it an "an extraordinary project" that could boost sales and property tax revenues.
He said so far he's only received positive feedback from local residents.
On Friday, he addressed concerns by some residents who have said road and school needs should come first. He reiterated that the development is not funded by the city.
Attempts to reach city council members for comment Friday were not successful.
But down the street from Meadows, not far from where the stadium will be situated, lives Gregg Shipley.
He's been in East Ridge for 55 years, graduated from East Ridge High School and ran for City Council in 2016.
He loves his town that's situated on the Tennessee-Georgia border, and he wants to see it flourish. The Red Wolves Soccer Club could help do that, he said Friday from his front porch on Nottingham Drive.
"I am all for it."
He said traffic might be a "small issue," but he's not too concerned.
Martino told the Times Free Press on Wednesday that property access will be in two locations: one from North Mack Smith Road and one from the Ringgold Road area near I-75.
Across from North Mack Smith Road is Parkridge East Hospital.
Jarrett Millsaps, CEO of Parkridge East, said in an email that the project is a "tremendous opportunity" for the community.
"Parkridge East Hospital has been dedicated to East Ridge for nearly 50 years, and we are excited about the continued revitalization of our neighborhood," he said. "We wholeheartedly support any initiative that enhances the city of East Ridge and look forward to partnering with the Red Wolves."
Millsaps said he does not anticipate any noise or traffic problems to come with the development.
When asked about noise, Shipley said he wasn't worried. It won't be worse than the nearby dirt track, he said.
Like the mayor, he hopes it will boost property values.
In the meantime, he has applied to be the PA announcer for the Red Wolves.
"The Red Wolves sound like they want to be a good partner to East Ridge," he said.
While many who live in East Ridge are excited, the project is not without controversy.
Everyone the Times Free Press spoke with Friday was optimistic about the project, but online responses have been more mixed and, for the most part, have focused on the ongoing rivalry between fans of the city's two soccer clubs — the Red Wolves and the Chattanooga Football Club.
One person commented on Twitter: "I can't wait to go to East Ridge ... said no one ever." Another one said: "Come for the soccer, stay for the drugs and prostitutes."
Some questioned what was being done to protect the wetlands around the projected stadium. Others expressed concerns about flooding in that area.
Martino on Thursday addressed both, saying his team is working with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to ensure proper steps are being taken, including adding fill to the land. He also said only about half of the property will be developed.
He said pushback is expected when dealing with development, and it's part of the process.
Those like Meadows are eager to see the results.
"This could be the big, big game changer."
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673. Contact staff writer Meg Scarbrough at email@example.com or 423-757-6260. Follow her on Twitter @emdash13.