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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / Hamilton County and Chattanooga officials announced plans to develop the former Wheland Foundry site on South Broad Street, with a new baseball stadium being the anchor. Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly speaks during the June 30, 2022, event at the Wheland Foundry site on .

We knew there would be questions, concerns, supporters and detractors when we announced our plans to revitalize the South Broad district through the catalyst of a new multi-use stadium.

Every generational project our community has embarked upon, from the Tennessee Aquarium to Enterprise South, has had its share of critics. Yet "Jack's Fish Tank," as some referred to Coca-Cola businessman Jack Lupton's plan to revitalize our waterfront, catalyzed billions of dollars in jobs and economic development. And Enterprise South, formerly a polluted TNT plant that some called a boondoggle, is now home to beautiful nature trails and thousands of vehicle manufacturing jobs.

So while it's no surprise that there are questions about such an important community project, if we don't seize this opportunity to renew our western gateway — and do it right — it will slip through our fingers like so much foundry sand.

Thanks to decades of planning, studies and public meetings, Chattanooga and Hamilton County are on the cusp of creating a vibrant live-work-play district on 140 acres of post-industrial wasteland. The revitalization of this district will generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue to support our schools and infrastructure without using one penny of existing tax dollars.

But this catalytic opportunity relies on two critical components: a world-class master developer and a new multi-use stadium.

Master developer Jim Irwin of New City Properties has signed on to lead the redevelopment plans for the site. With extensive experience transforming blighted brownfields into thriving communities, his ability to redevelop the South Broad site is unquestionable.

His engagement is contingent upon timing: He is finishing up a large project in Nashville and has Chattanooga slated as his immediate next priority. His participation is also contingent upon the construction of a multi-use stadium, which he firmly believes is necessary to catalyze surrounding new development. We agree.

The construction of a new stadium requires a commitment from a sports team to play there. The Chattanooga Lookouts have agreed to cover 22% of the cost of the new stadium through one of the most expensive leases in minor league baseball, which is guaranteed by contract to continue for 30 years — the maximum length of the time it will take to pay off the bond used to construct the stadium. They have also committed to covering the costs to operate and maintain the stadium year-round through that time period — estimated at more than $45 million.

If we stall, we stand to lose both a world-class developer and our storied minor league team.

The planning process for redeveloping this site began decades ago. There have been no fewer than eight studies conducted on the site since 2003, culminating in the South Broad District Study in 2018, which incorporated input from more than 250 community members gathered through multiple engagement sessions held in the South Broad area.

The results of that study called for a mixed-use stadium to catalyze surrounding redevelopment, and the plan was endorsed by Mayors Coppinger and Berke, recommended by the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission (Feb. 26, 2018), and adopted by the City Council (April 10, 2018). The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the project down, but as our city has reopened, so has our sense of purpose to turn this long-held vision into reality.

This is a generational opportunity to create a spectacular live-work-play district for our community that will increase our residents' prosperity and quality of life for generations to come, without pulling one penny from existing tax dollars. The time to act is now.

Follow along as we move through the process at www.southbroad.info.

Jim Coppinger is Hamilton County mayor. Tim Kelly is Chattanooga mayor.

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