Deering: Engel Stadium finds new life as UTC takes control

Nooga.com
September 13, 2011
by Ray Deering

That huge sigh of relief you heard emanating from the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last week undoubtedly came from the office of vice-chancellor Richard Brown. After nine years of untangling bureaucratic red tape, UTC was finally able to record the deed to Engel Stadium and the surrounding area.

The city council and the county commission voted in 2002 to give the property to UTC. Because the process involved local government, state government, university procedures and environmental issues, years passed before UTC could take control of the property.

“The good news is that everybody came together and abated those things,” said Dr. Brown, who oversees finance, operations and information technology. “We’ve had great partners in this project from the city and county mayors to the city and county attorneys and the university attorney. Perseverance and patience paid off. It certainly has been worth the effort.”

Janna Jahn, the chair of the Engel Foundation, is equally excited about the recording of the deed. In fact, she received even more good news last week.

“We just received our IRS determination letter, making us officially a 501(c)(3) corporation,” Jahn said. “That, combined with the recording of the deed, signals two major milestones that we have waited for for years. For us this news is huge.”

The mission of the Engel Foundation is to restore, preserve, promote and revitalize historic Engel Stadium as a center for baseball and community life.

The Engel site is crucial for UTC’s future planning, according to Brown. The university has already invested $3 million in intramural fields. Plans call for an NCAA track and field facility to be built with a soccer field. It’s possible that plans eventually will call for a tennis pavilion and additional parking for the community to share.

“Right now I’m doing an assessment phase of the stadium,” Brown said. “Our engineers and risk managers need to be sure the stadium is safe. We are cleaning the place up right now and evaluating the plumbing and electrical systems.”

The venerable stadium was built in 1930 and served as the home of the Lookouts until 1999, when construction on AT&T Field was started. Because of the zany antics of owner Joe Engel to promote attendance, the team and the stadium took on national significance. It was used for high school and college games for awhile after the Lookouts left, but in recent years has fallen into disrepair.

These developments afford the stadium a chance to be reborn. Many support the restoration of the stadium and its revitalization as a historic landmark. The official transfer of ownership to UTC will begin that process.

“We need to sit down with the Engel Foundation board to craft some type of an operating agreement,” Brown said. “We need an organization with the acumen to run a baseball stadium, and I’m hoping that the foundation will step up and manage the stadium for us. They have a great board, they all love baseball, and they have the expertise to manage a stadium.

“It is my intent to support the Engel Foundation in renovating and operating the stadium, making it available to the university and to the community at large. We want it to be available to baseball lovers all over the country. We think Engel Stadium is a unique asset. It is part of the fabric of the community and it is a project that I think Chattanooga will do.

“We are known for our planning and coming together. This is a project of great magnitude, but I think the community will step up and help us. I’d love to see a baseball museum at the site. I’d like to see Engel Stadium be one of the destinations when people come to visit the city.”

That is exactly what the foundation would like as well.

“I’m going to ask the board to seek funding to do a concept document/business plan,” Jahn said. “We would have a professional consulting firm come in to do a feasibility study of what we ultimately want to do with the stadium. We need to know how our plans would affect tourism and the neighborhood. We need design ideas.”

The foundation’s original plans call for a complete stadium renovation and the inclusion of a museum, gift shop and a first-class playing surface. What is undecided is the theme around which to wrap all of these amenities. The board has a bold vision for this theme, but is opting to wait until the concept document is finalized to reveal its plan.

“Some people wonder if a major renovation can be accomplished during difficult economic times,” Jahn said. “Remember that Joe Engel built the stadium in 1930 at the start of the depression. In 1937 he stood on downtown street corners and sold $5 shares to buy the Lookouts. He raised $100,000. Where people care about something, it gets done. There are a lot of people here and elsewhere who care about the history of baseball in Chattanooga and Engel Stadium in particular.”

There are many of us.

Article courtesy of Nooga.com: http://www.nooga.com/16619_deering-engel-stadium-finds-new-life-as-utc-takes-control/

Engel Foundation in the News