A multimillion-dollar makeover is planned for a large chunk of historic Montague Park as the Chattanooga FC Foundation envisions synthetic turf soccer fields, sand volleyball and other upgrades.
The nonprofit foundation, which bills itself as a separate entity from the soccer club, is seeking city approval for a long-term lease for 13 acres of the 49-acre park at East 23rd and Polk streets.
Officials also foresee a 22,000-square-foot pavilion, restrooms, concessions area, lights and 180 parking spaces, plans show.
"It will help people connect in ways around playing together," said Krue Brock, the foundation's director. "Soccer is such a broad and diverse game."
Brock said the planned new uses, especially aimed at youth sports, will go on the opposite side of the park from the existing Sculpture Fields. He's hopeful of linking the two areas with a trail.
"It will bring a whole host of new people who could walk over and enjoy the Sculpture Fields," he said. "We're big fans of the Sculpture Fields."
Rugby matches, which are already played at the park, could continue, Brock said. The three planned fields, two of which may hold synthetic turf, will offer a place for sports activities in addition to soccer such as ultimate Frisbee, he said.
The Chattanooga Football Club, the professional soccer team founded more than a decade ago, probably wouldn't play there, Brock said.
While new Mayor Tim Kelly is a co-founder of Chattanooga FC, Brock said there's "a complete firewall" between the team and the foundation. Kelly was chairman of the club but resigned after his election.
Still, the CFC Foundation website said it was established in 2015 by the Chattanooga Football Club. The website said the foundation is comprised of two programs, Chattanooga Sports Ministries and Operation Get Active.
"Together, under the direction of Chattanooga FC, they will lead youth and adults in the Chattanooga community to reach new heights by fostering relationships and encouraging healthy lifestyles through soccer," the website said.
Brock said the money for the Montague makeover will come from private funds donated to the foundation. No city money is expected for the project, he said.
Even though Kelly was elected mayor last month and the proposed lease at Montague will come up before Chattanooga planners for their approval on Monday, officials said there's no connection.
Richard Beeland, the city's deputy administrator for economic and community development, said there is "absolutely none I'm aware of."
Beeland said the city issued a request for proposals related to the park under former Mayor Andy Berke. A team of people reviewed proposals and the CFC Foundation's was picked late last year, he said.
"There was no connection with [Kelly] through the process," Beeland said. He said all the costs of the foundation's project would be the responsibility of that group.
About the park
Mary Thayer Montague, widow of T.G. Montague, donated 49 acres of land to be used as a park to the city in 1911. In 2006, the idea of a sculpture park was envisioned and a grassroots effort was led by internationally renowned sculptor John Henry. Sculpture Fields opened in 2016.
John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said the proposed request that's to come up Monday before the Planning Commission involves a 40-year ground lease with the city.
He said the planning agency received the request on March 22, which was before April's election of Kelly as mayor. Bridger said the RPA staff is recommending approval to the panel.
"We looked at the request for recreational-type use," he said. "If we don't have any comments or concerns from the staff, we recommend approval."
Bridger said the Planning Commission then will make its recommendation to the City Council, which would take up the matter in a few weeks.
Brock said the foundation actually had to go through the proposal process on two occasions. The first was in 2019 and the city was close to an announcement when the coronavirus hit in early 2020, he said.
"COVID really threw it off," Brock said. He said the RFP was re-initiated in 2020, the foundation altered its proposal slightly and it was chosen last December.
The foundation's focus involves offering after-school programs at 24 elementary schools in Hamilton County, which will be extended to Bradley County, Brock said.
He also said the foundation is working with six different neighborhoods where there are deficiencies in field space and programming.
In addition, the foundation oversees and manages Highland Park Commons, where there are public soccer fields and league play in that neighborhood in the city, Brock said.
He expects the Montague Park work will be like what's offered in Highland Park.
Montague Park dates back 110 years, and several decades ago it was a mecca for softball. But the site was shut down in 2003 because of environmental reasons.
Beeland said the park was later capped and that it undergoes monitoring by the city and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.