Burke set to give up Finley duties

Burke set to give up Finley duties

The owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts has operated the stadium since June 2005, but he plans to turn his focus to baseball and family responsibilities.

January 5th, 2009 by David Paschall in Sports

Frank Burke is stepping aside as operator of Finley Stadium after four years.

The Chattanooga Lookouts owner has been running Finley since June 2005 and will maintain that role through May 31. Burke informed Stadium Corp. chairman Bryan Patten last week of his intentions.

"My parents are elderly, I've taken on some more responsibility within Minor League Baseball, and it's just time for me to focus on what I do for a living," Burke said. "I have too many jobs right now. Baseball is what I love doing, and I'm going to go back to doing that and only that. I think I've done Finley long enough."

The Lookouts will be entering their first season of partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers after a 21-year affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds.

In the four football seasons in which Burke has run the $28.5 million Southside facility, the NCAA Division I championship game has drawn an average attendance of 20,944, highlighted by a record crowd of 23,010 in 2007. The 2006 Baylor-McCallie game drew an estimated 13,000, marking a record crowd for that high school rivalry.

Burke takes "full and complete noncredit" for those crowds, but Patten is appreciative of the stadium enhancements Burke has made.

"It's been day and night," Patten said. "Frank came in and knew how to take care of a stadium facility, so he cleaned it up and pressure-washed it. My way of thinking now is that we have a fabulous synthetic surface and a few electronic guts of a scoreboard. We also have a better sound system, though it's not perfect.

"My hat is off to him for the services that he's provided."

Patten said the Stadium Corp. will meet within the next two weeks to begin discussing potential successors. Two early candidates are Merrill Eckstein, president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events Committee, and Chris Thomas, who operates the Chattanooga Market in the adjacent First Tennessee Pavilion.

Whoever takes over will have $60,000 commitments from both the city and county, according to Patten, as well as some increased participation from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

"It's not a bleak prospect," Patten said. "It's not something where you say, 'Who's the sacrificial lamb that's going to come in behind Frank?' Our options are so much better because of the finances that the city and county have provided."

Burke, the Lookouts owner since 1995, asked for financial support after two years as Finley's operator. He said he received $150,000 in his third year and $180,000 this past year.

His expenses have included purchasing a video board, pressure-washing three times a year and combating energy costs, but he declined to disclose how much of his own money he's spent.

"I've lost a fair amount, and I think you can draw your own conclusions from the operating support I've received the last two years," he said. "I wouldn't have asked for that in order to make it profitable. I asked for that to break even."

Burke acknowledged some operational shortcomings he would like to have changed but said those were misjudgments and didn't involve lack of effort or good intent. He admitted it was difficult, for instance, to prepare for Appalachian State's first of three title-game visits in 2005 and added that he knows more about woofers than he ever thought he would.

His departure comes at a time when there is a heightened interest in UTC football due to the recent hiring of Richmond defensive coordinator and Mocs alum Russ Huesman as head coach. The Mocs averaged only 5,748 fans this season for home games, their smallest attendance since drawing 5,648 in 2004.

UTC went 6-28 in football the past three seasons.

"That part of it is too bad, but I never took this on to be in it forever, and I don't think anybody thought I did," Burke said. "I took this on at a time when I thought someone needed to, and I was in a position to do it. I really hope I've left it better than I found it. That was my goal all along."