ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
A rendering of the South Broad Street District shows a potential new multi-use stadium on the Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe property. / Contributed photo

All things considered, boondoggle is a good word. And fun to say.

But, when referring to the contentious discussion of public money to help the private rich folks who own the Lookouts build a new ballpark, is it a fair one?

It is the word Mark Cunningham, spokesman for the Beacon Center, a conservative Nashville group, used to describe intentions from the county and city to add funds to a stadium project for a new Lookouts stadium at the former Wheland Foundry site.

Outgoing Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger told this paper that he's open to putting public money into the project, which would include a baseball park for the Lookouts, as well as a nine-figure project that would be viewed as a gateway to downtown off I-24.

"It's about the return on the investment we make," Coppinger said in a telephone interview with Mike Pare and Dave Flessner of the Chattanooga Times Free Press business section this week. "These projects more than pay for themselves over time and help make our community better. I think that will be the case with what we're looking to invest to help in this stadium project."

But Cunningham sees it as a boondoggle.

Webster defines boondoggle as a braided cord worn by Boy Scouts as a neckerchief slide, hatband or ornament. Hmmmmmm.

Oh wait, the second definition of boondoggle is a wasteful or impractical project or activity often involving graft. That's likely the reference. So is the stadium idea a boondoggle? I don't see that, and certainly not with graft — or anything improper, unless of course, the Chattanooga Football Club is planning on a soccer addition to this puppy, then, the graft draft becomes a raft of possibilities.

But this project has merits, like Coppinger referenced, and wasteful or impractical seem like a stretch.

Yes, there are differences of opinion and I certainly can see — and have written — that the Lookouts ownership should be putting much more coin into the upfront costs — and should be transparent about it.

Supporters contend that a new stadium will seed hundreds of millions of dollars in investment — commercial and residential development that will transform that part of town. The stadium, they argue, is the catalyst. Gee, that sounds a whole lot like what was said about the Tennessee Aquarium a quarter century ago, no?

To be sure, people can argue that taxpayer money is better spent on other needs — a new ballpark is not even on the first page of a priority list. But calling the stadium effort a boondoggle? Nope. Can't see it.

"The owners of the Lookouts would rather focus on trying to get a new stadium on the tab of taxpayers than the fact that 60% of the stadium sat empty in 2021," Cunningham said in an emailed statement. "The state wisely chose not to finance the new Lookouts stadium and because of that, it seems like Mayor Coppinger is trying to bilk Hamilton County taxpayers for even more money before he leaves office."

Of course, the owners are focused on a new stadium.

But it's less about attendance — and quoting attendance numbers during the pandemic is a boondoggle of stats if you ask me — than it is about planning, because Lookouts owner Jason Freier of Hardball Capital has focused on profitability since buying the team. This is the same strategy he used with his other two minor league clubs, but now there is greater urgency since Major League Baseball is demanding better minor league facilities.

Crediting the state legislators for frugality is also hollow. To me, it looks as if the state put up a Lookouts-red stop sign more for political positioning than fiscal reasons, given that the state-backed a Knoxville ballpark just last year and is pitching half a billion to the new Nashville stadium and Titans ownership.

If the Lookouts leadership will put more upfront money and quicken the curve for the return on the public's investment, it's prudent for local leaders to explore every possible way to keep the Lookouts here. Because without a new park, they will be gone sooner rather than later.

For sure, there are valid arguments for and against this public investment that will be aired out in coming weeks. There is no need for any more spin, especially when it uses hyperbole like boondoggle.

Whether you're wearing a Boy Scout neckerchief or not.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

some text
Jay Greeson
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT