Montague Park, an old city park with a softball field on the site of a former landfill, may be heading into its third incarnation as a home for rugby and soccer.
A local businessman is putting up much of the money to redo the 23rd Street park so his local rugby team will have a home, city Parks and Recreation Director Larry Zehnder said.
"We're building a million-dollar facility with little money," Zehnder said.
The plan is to build three rugby pitches that also could be turned into soccer pitches. A sculpture park nearby is also part of the dream.
Montague Park was shut down in 2003 when state regulators found methane leaks and determined the landfill cap was not thick enough.
The city has worked for years with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation on capping the land and finding a use for it.
Zehnder said Steve Lofty, a partner in Lofty Construction Co., offered to cap the land and help build the pitches if the Chattanooga Rugby Football Club could call the park home. The city agreed.
He said Method Architecture is helping the project, in hopes a sculpture garden also can be placed at the fields. Barge, Waggoner & Sumner Inc. drew up a master plan.
Lofty, who is in Hawaii this week, said in an email he hopes the club and the fields can be a positive influence for inner-city youth.
"When finished, our hope is these sports fields can be host to national and international exhibitions as well as have free youth camps," Lofty said.
Scott Smith, president of the Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee, said it's hard to estimate the economic impact of rugby exhibitions or tournaments. He said tournaments with 20 teams usually bring in about $130,000 and those with 50 teams bring in about $300,000.
"Anything that brings visitors to our town, we are for," he said.
Zehnder said the park could be a prime location for national and international events.
"We could probably do that with the right facility," he said.
Zehnder said the city's estimate of the park's cost is $2.6 million. He's been asking for that amount for almost four years, he said.
Thanks to Lofty, the city will get something at the old park for little cost.
Lofty, who is 60 years old and still plays rugby, said he doesn't mind donating time and money for the endeavor.
"We have never had a permanent field to call our pitch," Lofty said.
The rugby team, started in 1978, practices at East Ridge High School and plays in Rossville. It was undefeated last season and was named Mid-South champions.
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...