Monday, May 21, 2012

Lookouts owner cannot afford ballpark, Chattanooga trying to buy

Even after leasing on land for $1 per year from a nonprofit, private ownership cannot afford to field minor league baseball and own the ballpark:

Mayor Ron Littlefield is seeking state legislation that would, if it becomes necessary, help the city's Sports Authority or possibly River City Co. purchase AT&T Field to ease the sale of the Chattanooga Lookouts to private buyers and keep the Class AA team playing downtown.

"We don't really want to be a player unless it's necessary to save the team for Chattanooga," Littlefield said in one of several interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday about the legislation ....

Most cities in Tennessee and across the nation build stadiums to attract or retain professional sports teams, Littlefield noted ....

The land beneath the stadium is owned by River City Co., a nonprofit that promotes downtown development through the creation of public spaces. With team owners footing the stadium's cost, River City leases the field -- prime city real estate with a commanding view of the city and Tennessee River -- for $1 a year ....

The land back in 1999 was valued at $1.2 million. Latest estimates are its worth $9 million, [River City President Kim] White said. At issue, she said, "is how do we keep that momentum [downtown] going and keep baseball."

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, is sponsoring the bill that would allow the city use state sales taxes from Lookouts tickets and concessions sales for the bonds. The bill was in the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Because of its cost to the state, estimated by analysts at $275,000 annually, and the fact that the costs of the late-moving legislation was not included in Gov. Bill Haslam's recent budget revisions, the bill ... is being held in the subcommittee as final manuevering [sic] takes place on the state's $30.2 billion annual spending plan. It may or may not make the cut.

When new stadiums are proposed it seems their branding mantra is that they will bring in more sales tax revenues for other services. Is Chattanooga's dilemma in the General Assembly showing that in order to retain a pro sport the mantra shifts to using stadiums' own sales tax revenues to pay for the sport itself?

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