ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Hamilton County mayoral candidates Matt Adams, left, and Weston Wamp are shown in this composite photo. / Staff file photos

Crime, affordable housing and a proposed stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts were a few of the topics covered in a televised debate between the two candidates for Hamilton County mayor.

The debate between Democrat Matt Adams and Republican Weston Wamp aired Thursday night on WTCI PBS and WUTC-FM 88.1, after being taped on July 14.

Ray Bassett, host of "Scenic Roots" on WUTC, moderated the event. Early voting is ongoing and lasts through July 30. Election day is Aug. 4.

The first quarter of the hour-long forum focused in part on plans to build a new $79.5 million stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts at the former Wheland Foundry site in Chattanooga's South Broad District. Wamp has been skeptical of the proposal, which he argues is being rushed to the finish line, but Adams has been more receptive.

Bassett asked candidates how they would have approached the project as mayor. Adams said it's a little misguided for people to argue that the rollout has been too hasty. The site, he noted, has been undeveloped for about 20 years.

Adams said he would have wanted officials to gather more input from the community and flesh out more details, including possible uses for land now occupied by AT&T Field, the current home of the Lookouts, and the best way to handle public transportation to and from the proposed stadium site.

some text
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Mayoral candidate Matt Adams speaks during an interview at the Chattanooga Times Free Press office on July 11.

"I've spoken to a number of people in tourism here in Hamilton County who have said that is going to be a hindrance on a lot of future endeavors when it comes to tourism if we don't expand public transportation," he said.

Wamp reiterated that he believes the plans for a new Lookouts stadium are haphazard.

"I guarantee at 9% inflation whatever they think the stadium is going to cost now, four years from now, five years from now when it's out of the ground, it won't be the same cost," he said.

Citing an unsuccessful effort by city leaders earlier this year to secure $20.8 million in state funding for the project, Wamp said he would have made a second attempt to lobby legislators for funding.

During the second half of the debate, Bassett asked the candidates how recent shootings in Chattanooga and elsewhere have shaped their outlook on public safety.

Wamp's sister, Coty Wamp, is running for Hamilton County district attorney and handily unseated incumbent Neal Pinkston by winning the May Republican primary. She will now face Democrat John Allen Brooks in the August general election.

Weston Wamp said he doesn't think any of the young people who perpetrated acts of violence in Chattanooga or elsewhere ever imagined themselves in those situations.

some text
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Weston Wamp speaks on July 5, when Gov. Bill Lee and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs were in town to show support for his campaign.

"I think it comes back to making sure our school system meets young people where they're at and focuses on career training in those latter years in high school so that students have the ability to go right into the workforce," he said.

Adams said the recent spate of mass shootings nationwide has only solidified his opinion that there needs to be a stronger connection between law enforcement and the public. He has proposed creating a director of community engagement for the sheriff's department, which would focus on reinforcing that link.

A similar program in Nashville led to a 4% decrease in violent crime and a 3% decrease in gang involvement, he said, while also boosting literacy rates and test scores.

"The numbers are there, and that's just one of several examples of the great benefits that can come when law enforcement are properly, consistently and effectively engaging the community," he said.

Asked about ways to spur affordable housing, Wamp predicted that county government will likely take a lead role in residential development, noting that about 80% of new home construction is taking place in the county. He's open to using tax increment financing to fund affordable housing projects.

"Otherwise we're going to price young families out of the ability to buy a home," Wamp said, adding that more growth also means more infrastructure needs in rural parts of the county.

Adams said county leaders will need to leverage partnerships with developers and nonprofit groups to put people on a path to homeownership. At any given time, he said, there are fewer than 30 available homes in Hamilton County that are affordable for people making the median income or less.

"That puts people in a cycle of renting and keeps people away from homeownership," he said.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT