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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)


Chattanooga Lookouts' officials have held no talks with the Chattanooga Red Wolves Soccer Club about jointly developing a new facility, an official for the minor league baseball team says.

Also, the director of the group that runs Finley Stadium said scheduling complications may have prompted the Red Wolves to pursue their own stadium for matches.

With Finley Stadium and AT&T Field already supporting football, soccer, baseball and other events — and the Lookouts talking about a new multipurpose facility off South Broad Street — can Chattanooga support still another facility for sporting events?

The new professional soccer team announced last week it plans to build its own stadium to host its matches in two years. Officials were apparently unable to reach an agreement to use Finley Stadium and decided instead to play next season at Chattanooga Christian School.

Chris Thomas, executive director of the group that operates Finley on Chattanooga's Southside, said he doesn't believe anyone in the city is getting rich off a stadium.

"I wouldn't put my own money into a stadium," said Thomas, who had been in discussions with the Red Wolves over use of Finley.

Thomas said he and Red Wolves owner Bob Martino were involved in "good and sincere" talks about the team's use of Finley, which it would have had to share with the amateur soccer team the Chattanooga Football Club, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and others.

Thomas said he doesn't know why the Red Wolves decided to go its own way. He cited potential scheduling conflicts as a possible reason.

"We have a lot of long-term partners," Thomas said, saying that may have created a more complex schedule of matches than "[Martino] wanted to fool with."

But he said a potential deal that surrounded discussions with the Red Wolves wasn't as rich as what UTC receives.

"Not by any stretch of the imagination," Thomas said. He said UTC put money into constructing Finley two decades ago.

"It's really apples and oranges ... both contractually and morally," Thomas said.

Martino and the Red Wolves management declined to comment beyond a news release put out last Thursday in which it said it plans to build a new stadium on an undisclosed site. It said it will play matches next year at Chattanooga Christian School's David Stanton Field, which seats 3,500 people.

It's not known if the Red Wolves will seek public funding or incentives to build its facility.

Jason Freier, the Lookouts' operating partner, said the question regarding supporting stadiums isn't about facilities, but rather teams.

"The market will support a professional baseball team and a soccer team," said Freier, whose club plays at AT&T Field downtown. "I don't think the presence of a professional soccer team has any impact on our attendance or success in the market."

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Freier's company has a team and helped raise a new multipurpose stadium, the minor league baseball club is drawing 400,000 people a year, minor league hockey is attracting about 300,000 annually and there's a successful National Basketball Association developmental squad.

He said Chattanooga's metro area is 50 percent larger than Fort Wayne's.

"We're not concerned that the numbers of teams will impact the Lookouts in any negative way," Freier said.

He added that he has had no talks about the Lookouts and Red Wolves sharing a possible new facility.

"I've never spoken to them, never met them," Freier said, adding that the Fort Wayne facility has hosted soccer matches in the past.

Mike Mallen, a partner in the company that owns the 141-acre Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe tract off South Broad identified as a potential new Lookouts home, said he, too, has had no discussions with the Red Wolves group about the foundry parcel.

While he supports soccer, he said he doesn't know anything about that business.

"That's so far removed from what we're trying to accomplish right now," Mallen said.

He said such facilities need to be multifaceted and programmed "each day of the year."

Mallen said his group continues to try to attract a so-called "master developer" for the property.

Freier said that to have substantive discussions on a possible new minor league baseball stadium at the site, bringing on such a developer for the tract is critical.

"We'll be glad to have that discussion and see if we fit in once they have a master developer," he said.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at [email protected] or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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October 20, 2018


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