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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Fans enjoy the game between the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Rocket City Trash Pandas at AT&T Field on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Chattanooga and Hamilton County want to build a new stadium for the Lookouts, but a proposal to use a state grant to help fund project has encountered opposition from members of the local legislative delegation.

Members of Hamilton County's state legislative delegation may have opened the door a bit on sales tax sharing going to help build a new baseball stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts last week, but we figure there's plenty of room for others to walk through the same door.

Specifically, we'd like to see team owner Jason Freier and other team investors pony up a portion of the money to finance the $86.5 million stadium in the South Broad area, or find additional private investors who will.

To date, according to newspaper archives, the only private money that would be pledged to the stadium so far is $19.6 million in lease payments by the minor league team that plays there and $10 million in contributed land for the project.

Chattanooga and Hamilton County officials have sought $13.5 million in state contributions, similar to what minor league team owner Randy Boyd — who is also the president of the University of Tennessee system — got for his plan to move the Smokies team from Sevierville back to Knoxville and build a new stadium and associated retail and residential development there.

The difference is Boyd owns or bought all the property on which that city's development would occur, has promised $142 million in private investor development and has declared he and his development group would cover the cost overruns on the stadium.

(As an aside, the builders of Boston's venerable Fenway Park, built in 1912, and Chicago's beloved Wrigley Field, built in 1914, must be laughing somewhere as they see replacements needed for the Tennessee Titans' stadium, which opened in 1999, the Sevierville stadium, which opened in 2000, and the Lookouts' AT&T Field, which opened in 2000.)

Members of Hamilton County's legislative delegation haven't exactly warmed to the idea of state money going to a new Lookouts stadium, saying since the beginning of the legislative session they haven't had enough details on the project, there hasn't been enough private money pledged and that the state getting involved in funding private ventures doesn't fit with the conservative nature of the Republican-led legislature.

But state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told this page last week "we have always maintained they can have the TIF (tax increment financing) money inside the stadium," meaning that taxes on food, souvenirs, programs, etc. — minus a portion for schools — could go toward paying off bonds that will be used to build the stadium.

"But that's it," he said.

Gardenhire and state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood also have maintained that $35 million in state money already is going to the building of an interstate interchange that will serve the immediate area.

Further, local officials had requested the state cover $7 million for environmental clean-up of the stadium land, but Gardenhire said the owners of the land have claimed for years they would take care of the land remediation.

So where do things stand?

Gardenhire and Hazlewood have a bill in the legislature that drops the population in state statutes about sports authorities allowed to use TIF monies to counties with 360,000 people, which would include Hamilton County.

"That's all that bill does," he said, adding he figures the bill will pass.

As to the possibility of any additional state money coming to the new stadium, Gardenhire allowed for two possibilities, one unlikely and one to be determined.

The unlikely possibility is if Gov. Bill Lee, who presented his budget revisions to state lawmakers last week, "takes money out of another pot," like economic development.

The one to be determined, Gardenhire said, was voiced by state Sen. Bo Watson, who indicated if members of the delegation saw progress being made next year toward a new stadium, they might revisit the funding situation.

In the meantime, the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, who have said in so many words they would partner with the legislature on the project, will need to determine what monetary commitment they are willing to make, if any.

"The ball," Gardenhire said, "is in their court," meaning all the non-state entities who would partner on the project.

We think that's where it should be at this point.

The team owners, potential investors, and the city and county need to determine their part, take steps to get the ball rolling and see what develops.

"All of us in the [legislative] delegation would love to see a new stadium," Gardenhire said. "We just think there's a better way to pay for it" than some $20 million in state money.

To restate a phrase many think is in the Bible, but isn't: Good things come to those who help themselves. We think that's sound advice for the players who are driving the push for a stadium in the South Broad neighborhood.

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