This story was updated at 7:16 p.m. with more information.
Hamilton County mayoral candidate Matt Adams, a Democrat, is calling on Hardball Capital — the owners of the Chattanooga Lookouts — to release "several communications" involving his opponent, Republican Weston Wamp.
"There has been a lot of talk about transparency in the race for county mayor, especially since we will see one of the largest transitions in county elected leadership in decades," Adams said in a news release on Friday. "Hardball Capital, the parent company of the Chattanooga Lookouts, had several communications between Weston Wamp and management of the Lookouts allegedly pertaining to Weston Wamp heading the stadium project.
"I believe that it is in the interest of transparency for these documents to be released to the public immediately. As we are less than two weeks away from electing a new county mayor, the public deserves to know the stakes at play."
City and county officials recently announced plans to construct a new minor league baseball stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts at the former Wheland Foundry site in the city's South Broad District. It's a $79.4 million project that proponents say will spur upwards of $1 billion of investment in a long-blighted property at one of the city's most visible gateweays.
Wamp has been a vocal skeptic of the plan, citing the timing so close to an election and perceived deficiencies in the funding mechanisms for the project.
Wamp has denied that his history with the team is influencing his judgments about the proposed stadium. Wamp invested in and later sold holdings in the Lookouts, but has repeatedly denied ever having any ill-will towards the team.
"I've addressed this on multiple occasions, and I will say again that my skepticism about a new stadium is not personal with the Lookouts," Wamp said in a statement to the Times Free Press on Friday. "But it now appears the Lookouts are conspiring with my Democratic opponent 13 days before an election."
Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier has told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that he has documentation of Wamp's previous support for the stadium project — emails that he declined to release, saying he's focused on the current effort, not the past.
He referred to those emails again in a June 22 email to Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and his advisers, obtained by the Times Free Press. In the email, Freier claimed that Wamp's current concerns about the project stem from personal reasons.
Freier stated that he had several emails dating back to 2015 from Wamp and his father, former U.S. Rep Zach Wamp, indicating that they were initially supportive of the project and they "were the ones to work with to make that happen." Freier claimed that later changed when executives told Weston Wamp they didn't want him affiliated with the team. Wamp has denied this version of the events.
"I don't want to ever have to disclose those emails — I want this project to be approved on its merits and without stirring up further controversy," Freier wrote on June 22. "And hopefully our relationship with Weston can be better moving forward. But if Weston is going to play dirty and be backhanded behind the scenes, it may make sense both to disclose his involvement in trying to stop this and to share his earlier emails to demonstrate how completely hypocritical he is."
Asked about the June 22 message, Freier said in a July 14 statement that he did not intend for that correspondence to become public, adding that it was intended "to help explain some of the dynamics at play."
"As I said in what I intended to be a private email, 'I want this project to be approved on its merits and without stirring up further controversy,'" he told the Times Free Press. "And hopefully our relationship with Weston can be better moving forward.' That is what I told the group we wanted three weeks ago, and it remains the best summary of our position that I can provide."
Reached Friday for comment, Freier said by text that he had nothing more to add.
"We are still keeping our focus on the project itself and the merits thereof," he said.
Wamp told the Times Free Press on July 9 that in 2014, East Ridge native John Woods talked with him about gaining access to funding for the Lookouts from the Lamp Post Group, where Wamp worked at the time. Although Wamp later sold his personal interest in the Lookouts, the Lamp Post Group still owns part of the team.
"In conjunction with Lamp Post's investment, Woods proposed I work part-time with the Lookouts while remaining on staff at Lamp Post," Wamp said at the time. "Ultimately, I decided against it but remained a Lookouts minority owner until 2018, when I sold my interest."
"Vetting Lamp Post's investment into the Lookouts opened my eyes to the voodoo economics of publicly funded stadiums," Wamp continued. "At the time of my involvement, the Lookouts owners had discussed private funding for a stadium, a far cry from the 100% publicly financed project that was proposed last week."
Wamp has said he sold his interest in the Lookouts when his former business partners at Lamp Post asked him to do so.
"So the way it came to me, and this was a small transaction, my former business partners came to me to say, 'Hey, how about we buy you out of your small equity stake?'" Wamp said in a July 7 interview with the paper. "From my perspective, it wasn't initiated from the Lookouts. I think the Lookouts probably said something to them, and what do I care?"
The Hamilton County Industrial Development Board approved the stadium plan on Thursday. It still requires sign-off from the city's IDB, the Chattanooga City Council and the Hamilton County Commission.
Wamp and Adams will compete in the Aug. 4 election to replace outgoing mayor Jim Coppinger, who is stepping down at the end of his term. The new mayor will take office in September.
Staff writer Dave Flessner contributed to this story.