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Staff file photo / A section of Montague Park along East 23rd Street is the site of proposed multiuse athletic fields.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 8:25 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, to state that a Chattanooga City Council vote on a Montague Park lease with the Chattanooga Football Club Foundation was the final approval needed.

The Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday voted 7-2 to authorize a lease with a soccer foundation for part of Montague Park, with panel members saying sports can co-exist next to the Sculpture Fields.

Council Chairman Chip Henderson and Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod cast the two no votes on the 40-year lease of 13 acres to the Chattanooga Football Club Foundation. The terms call for the foundation to lease the site for $1 a year.

Krue Brock, who directs the foundation, told the panel that athletic fields constructed on the tract at East 23rd and Polk streets next to the existing Sculpture Fields won't just be used for soccer.

He said he has been in conversations about Chattanooga Preparatory School using the site for football.

"It's an exciting use," Brock said about the parcel where playing rugby, lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee are also envisioned.

Councilman Anthony Byrd, in whose district the park sits, said he was asked if he'd put the Mona Lisa painting in the middle of Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs play.

Byrd said he wouldn't put the artwork in a drug- and crime-ridden area that's not getting any development or help.

"I'd do something," he said, as he voted yes for the lease.

Warren Barnett, a Sculpture Fields board member, said after the vote he's disappointed that in all the places in Chattanooga to put soccer fields, it had to be on a parcel where that group hoped to expand from its existing 33-acre site.

"I don't think the story is over," he said, adding the proposed lease still needs to receive U.S. Housing and Urban Development approval.

Jermaine Freeman, the city's interim administrator for the Department of Economic Development, said Chattanooga previously received HUD money likely for softball fields in the 1970s. He said he didn't believe HUD approval will be an issue.

Henderson, in voting against the lease proposal, said he'd never been to a museum that had additional room for a basketball court.

"I can't make the connection between the two," he said about the sports and arts uses at Montague. "It's the wrong use for the field."

But Councilwoman Carol Berz said art and life should be blended together without any barriers.

Councilman Darrin Ledford, who said he has an art degree, added that he believes in "seeking balance with different experiences."

The foundation has a multimillion-dollar plan for three multiuse fields for soccer and other sports, a 22,000-square-foot pavilion, restrooms, a concessions area and 180 parking spaces, a proposal shows.

Sculpture Fields officials have their own $8 million to $10 million plan for the adjacent tract, including new art pieces, a 2,000-to-3,000-seat amphitheater and a welcome center.

Lyall Harrison, president of the Chattanooga Rugby Club, said he doesn't want to see animosity between sports and art uses.

"If we're able to bring more visibility to the sculptures, that would be cool," he said.

Harrison also said people tied to his organization put a lot of previous work and money into readying the site for use. He said Montague Park has been the club's home for the past seven years or so.

However, William Overend, chairman of the Sculpture Fields, said 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. Overend said the group isn't against youth soccer.

"With three CFC Foundation soccer fields in Highland Park and two more being built as part of the renovation of the Standard-Coosa-Thatcher property, the area does not want for soccer fields," he said.

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.

In May, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission voted to back the proposed lease agreement.

The city solicited proposals for the land's use under former Mayor Andy Berke. A team of people reviewed proposals, including the Sculpture Fields' idea, but the CFC Foundation's plan was picked late last year.

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

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