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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Finley Stadium is shown on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

The Stadium Corp. board on Tuesday afternoon unanimously approved Brian Wright as Finley Stadium's new executive director.

Wright is no stranger to Chattanooga or to the 20,412-seat facility built in 1997, having graduated from Arts & Sciences and UTC and having worked at Finley under former executive directors Merrill Eckstein and Paul Smith. He served in a management role under Smith before leaving several years ago to work at Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium, most recently as its Operations Project Manager.

"Brian is a go-getter," Stadium Corp. board chairman Mike Davis said. "He lived for Finley Stadium back then, and I think he'll live for Finley Stadium in the future."

Wright is replacing Chris Thomas, who has served as Finley's executive director since 2017 and will remain as the executive director of Public Markets, Inc., which operates the Chattanooga Market in the First Horizon Pavilion.

Thomas is leaving quite the high bar, as Finley Stadium has turned in its first seven-figure quarter with $1,029,494.32 in May-to-June earnings with several June events still remaining. Roughly $500,000 of that, according to Thomas, is from the Kane Brown concert on May 7.

"The market is back in force," Thomas said. "CFC has started again. Kane Brown is in there, and we've had a lot of camps and other uses. Spring is amazing."

The success of Finley Stadium's fourth quarter comes on the heels of a second quarter that contained UTC football games, CFC matches and nine TSSAA BlueCross Bowl high football championship contests. That October-through-December run yielded $850,910.91 in earnings.

Since Thomas took the reins in April 2017, Finley Stadium has amassed $10,463,520.07 in earnings and incurred $8,412,844.23 in expenses for a net operating income of $2,050,675.84.

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Brian Wright

"I'm pretty proud of a 20% margin for a nonprofit," Thomas said. "I set out to solve a finite set of problems when I joined, and I did that, but life doesn't stop. There is a whole brand new basket of things to work on, and some of those are going to take three to five years. That impacted my decision point, to be candid.

"I didn't want to start something and not finish it. This was a clean point to wrap it up and let someone with maybe a little more energy take the next three- to five-year shift."

Thomas will serve as Finley Stadium's executive director through June 30 and volunteered to consult or advise through the transition with Wright if it's needed.

"These are some pretty healthy numbers," Stadium Corp. board member and former chairman Ryan Crimmins told Thomas. "All I can say is, 'Great work,' and, 'Way to go.' It's really incredible."

Said Davis: "This is a position we've never been in. It's a whole new feeling, and it sure beats begging."

Finley Stadium's facilities manager, Peter Turk, agreed with the overall health of the facility but said challenges are looming, most notably water leaking into the locker rooms from the West Plaza terrace. Davis estimated that fixing the leaks and revamping the locker room areas altogether could be a $5 million project at a minimum.

Turk also said the technology in the overhead lighting system is outdated, parts of the elevators will need replacing and parking lot areas are in need of repair.

Maybe not again

Thomas was asked during the Stadium Corp.meeting if he would be willing to host another sizable concert should the opportunity arise.

"I'm not sure the facility should take such a large financial risk," he replied. "We experienced multiple failures, but we got through them. When you have an aging facility and 17,000 people show up, you're going to have things happen."

When asked to cite a specific failure, Thomas said, "We had water pressure and supply issues — just imagine 17,000 flushing toilets."

Odds and ends

There have been 240 events so far this year at either the stadium or pavilion with 138 more that have been scheduled ... There is only one free Saturday between now and 2023 ... The Stadium Corp. approved a contract with Electrify America that will install six charging stations for electric vehicles.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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