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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
Though Signal Mountain is still years away from meeting all its sports-field space needs, acquiring that additional recreational space could one day bring more than just sporting opportunities for the mountain's 400 baseball leaguers. It could also stimulate the local economy.
State and select baseball tournaments can generate $10,000 to $15,000 for the town, Councilwoman Amy Speek said, with spectators visiting local businesses and restaurants while paying gate fees for the games.
Signal has been able to host small district tournaments with Red Bank and Lookout Mountain, and the town was even able to host a state tournament in 2008 after the high school's athletic facilities were built, but was only able to accommodate one age group, said Mayor Chris Howley.
In order to consistently host larger tournaments, the town would need to have three or four baseball diamonds grouped together at Town Hall, which is already tight on space.
In the past, the council and town's Recreation Board discussed converting Hedges Field, which sits behind one of the baseball diamonds at Town Hall, into a third diamond for the town, Howley said. In this scenario, the flag football games played at Hedges would be moved to Wagner Field at Timberlinks Park, which currently has two ball diamonds that cater to the town's T-ball league.
Though Wagner is used for flag football and lacrosse practice in the fall, the grounds do not meet the size requirements for a regulation field. If the T-ball league migrated to Hedges and the backstops at Wagner were removed, there could potentially be space for a full-sized football and lacrosse field, but it is not guaranteed, Howley said.
While still looking at the big picture of sports on the mountain, both Howley and Speek said they do not foresee the town becoming tournament-ready anytime soon. With the town attending to more urgent financial concerns and commitments, such as the loss of the Mountain Arts Community Center, which is plagued with mold and other issues, officials say they are unable to allocate much of in the way of funds, at least at the moment, to expanding recreational space.
"I think tournaments are a want, not necessarily a need," said Speek. "But I think if we were able to actually push through that hurdle, it will ultimately bring in revenue to the town. But we've got to put the money up first to get the fields and kind of get that ball rolling."
The tournament conversation started during the Town Council's February work session after the old, condemned playground at Timberlinks was removed. The playground had fallen out of code and become a safety hazard.
"It was an accident waiting to happen," said Speek, a medical professional who said she cringed each time she drove past the dilapidated play area.
The town had set aside $30,000 in the current budget to replace the playground equipment, but after conversations with the Recreation Board, Speek recommended holding off on the reconstruction until after the town had made a plan for the park's field space.
If the equipment was installed now in the same location, she explained, the town might have to pay to move it later if officials chose to make space for a full-sized field at Wagner.
"I'm in no way saying let's indefinitely get rid of a playground for our children," Speek told fellow council members. "I'm just saying let's hold off on the location."
Speek said she and members of the Recreation Board will need to go to Timberlinks Park and take measurements to find out where the playground could be moved to provide room for both it and an expanded field at the site. They will also be looking to see if the playground needs to be moved at all.
"So we're in the really, really early stages," Speek said. "I just didn't want to sink a lot of money into something that we may be moving to a different location."
The money budgeted for the playground can be carried into next year.
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