March 18, 2022 8:00am

Stadium timeout, trash talk and gas price relief

State lawmakers need more information about a proposed baseball facility; times to get litter pickup crews back on the job

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent
 

Backers of a new Chattanooga Lookouts stadium, to be located on the former U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry property in the South Broad District, are having a hard time getting to first base in the Tennessee General Assembly.

State lawmakers said this week they need more information about exactly what the financing lineup is going to look like before committing millions in state funds to the project. They want to who will have skin in the game and how much.

If the legislative delegation had asked Power Poll Chattanooga members, they would heard an almost even split between supporters and opponents: Almost 40% of survey respondents this week said the state should pony up the millions Mayor Tim Kelly has asked for to help move the stadium project along.

On the flip side, a third of respondents said the state should walk away.

When asked, “Do you think the state should OK a $20 million request (roughly $7 million for remediation and $13 million in direct support) to help pay for construction of a new Lookouts stadium at the 141-acre former Wheland Foundry/U.S. Pipe property in the South Broad District?” 39% said “yes” while 31% said “no.” Another 18% split on what the state should do; they were agreeable to the $13 million in direct support but not to the millions needed to remediate the former industrial plant sites (12% said they didn't know).

Mayor Kelly, who along with county Mayor Jim Coppinger has advocated passionately for the project, said the timing is right.

“If we can't make something happen at the old Wheland site now, when will we ever hope to?” he wrote.

Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean, also a former state lawmaker, said the county's legislative delegation “should be leading the charge to secure the funding for the new stadium.”

He noted that other delegations have supported similar projects in their home communities, Knox and Davidson counties, for example.

Gary Behler, the Juvenile Court Clerk, said he is ready to see the new stadium get underway.

“I have participated in some of the public planning/visioning meetings for that site, and there is huge support for this development project,” he wrote. “It would be a game-changer (literally) and would exchange an eyesore for a grand gateway into our city.”

With the state legislature hoping to wrap up its business in the next four weeks or so, we should expect some movement pretty quickly on the stadium and its financing.

The March Power Poll was conducted Monday through Thursday. It drew 100 responses from various business, community and government leaders. The survey was sent to 331 Power Poll members for a 30% response rate.

Moving away from stadium talk, Power Poll members were far more united in talking trash.

It seems you can't drive anywhere and not see litter along our freeways and roads. What you don't see on the roadways much anymore are the crews who pick up trash as part of community service requirements because of a DUI conviction, for example.

The Times Free Press runs letters to the editor and Rants from readers complaining about the problem. TV news stations have aired stories about litter proliferation. The issue bubbled up at a recent Hamilton County Commission meeting. Commissioners learned that state lawmakers removed a requirement for 24 hours of community service for some offenders and that move plus the pandemic severely curtailed litter pick-up.

Power Poll respondents were very clear about how they felt: When asked, "Do you support including community service hour requirements, such as litter pick-up, for individuals who plead guilty or are convicted of certain crimes?" 87% said "yes" while 9% said "no." Another 4% said they didn't know.

"The amount of litter along our interstate highways, state roads and city streets is atrocious," Behler wrote. "Certainly there is an opportunity to sentence low-level offenders to community service projects for litter clean up. This would solve multiple problems: reduce the number of offenders occupying expensive corrections beds, saving those for more serious offenders that should be incarcerated for public safety reasons while greatly improving the aesthetic natural beauty of our area."

And finally, Power Poll members seem sympathetic to the pocketbook hit consumers are taking at the gas pump.

In Nashville, Democratic lawmakers have pitched the idea that the state suspend its gas tax for 90 days. They want Republican Gov. Bill Lee to take the lead in helping Volunteer State residents, as other governors have for their citizens.

However, economists are skeptical that such a move would save motorists all that much (while acknowledging that Tennessee is in strong financial shape and could handle the minor dip in revenue collections relatively well).

When asked, "Do you think Gov. Bill Lee should place a temporary moratorium on the state's gas tax to give Tennesseans a break on what they pay at the pump?" 54% said "yes," 38% said "no" and 8% said they didn't know.

Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, at cvass@powerpoll.com or cvass@timesfreepress.com.

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