published Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Montague Park taken 'out of mothballs'


by Cliff Hightower
Large art pieces dot the sculpture garden section of Montague Park in this file photo.
Large art pieces dot the sculpture garden section of Montague Park in this file photo.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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An old city softball field and park could soon rise again after being shut down for almost a decade.

Chattanooga and two partners are in the middle of renovating Montague Park, located at South Holtzclaw Avenue and East 23rd Street, creating a space that is half sculpture park and half rugby pitches.

"We're creating about a $10 million park with two organizations," said Larry Zehnder, the city's administrator for Parks and Recreation.

He said he hopes at least one of the three rugby pitches will be usable by fall.

The idea is to get the park "out of mothballs" after it was closed in 2003 when state regulators found methane leaks in the ballfield. Montague Park lies on the site of a former city landfill.

The state and the city reached a deal in 2008 on how to return the park to a usable state. Zehnder said the city, along with volunteers, followed the Tennessee Department of Energy and Conservation plan to place a three-foot cap of dirt and grass across the affected area.

TDEC will perform a final inspection to make sure it's safe, he said.

"That will occur when it's finished," he said.

Two groups, the Chattanooga Rugby Club and the Sculpture Park of Montague, have donated time, talent and treasure to the park. The Rugby Club plans to build a fieldhouse on the public space and is asking for a long-term lease for its use.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said the group is seeking a 40-year lease.

"That's the maximum the city can give," he said.

For the lease to be implemented, it would first need to go before the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission for approval and the commission would need justification for granting the lease.

McMahan said he thinks the lease would be justifiable because it would help in a tourism-related facility.

The Greater Chattanooga Sports and Events Committee has said in the past that rugby tournaments could bring in about $130,000 to $300,000 in revenue to the city.

City officials said the fields at Montague Park could be used as soccer fields as well, expanding its reach.

Zehnder said he also planned on asking for money in next year's capital budget to help pay for fencing, finishing the last two pitches, building walkways and installing bleachers.

The city has spent about $220,000 so far on the project, he said.

The largest load has been carried out by other organizations, he said. The Chattanooga Rugby Club capped the site and the Sculpture Park of Montague brought in the sculptures, all at no cost to the city, Zehnder said.

"The only way we get this park is through volunteer work," he said.

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