Building a Sports Community in Chattanooga
When stepping foot into Chattanooga, Tennessee, it immediately becomes clear why the city has been nicknamed the “Scenic City.” It’s hard to resist pulling out a camera to photograph the lush rolling mountains and the emerald-blue Tennessee River that courses through the heart of the city. Chattanooga has also become a household name thanks to Glenn Miller’s orchestral rendition of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” which was recorded in 1941 and recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. But Chattanooga offers much more than just a great photo op and a hit song, as I learned on a recent trip to the southeastern Tennessee city.
Chattanooga plays host to a variety of sporting events and one of the city’s greatest assets is its downtown waterfront area, which underwent a $120 million revitalization in 2004. Since then—with the support of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Chattanooga Sports Committee and the community itself—the city has landed events such as the Head of the Hooch Regatta and more recently, several Ironman races. In fact, Chattanooga is contracted for Ironman events through 2018 including a full-distance Ironman, a 70.3 Ironman and the 2017 70.3 Ironman World Championships.
In addition to utilizing the river walk area, which can also be used for recreational activities, event organizers can choose from many nearby venues. For tennis, the Champions Club in North Shore offers 26 hard courts and a 6,000-square-foot clubhouse. A short drive east across the river is the 83-acre Summit of Softball Complex with eight playing fields. Just three miles from downtown is Warner Park, another softball complex. During the summer months, the venue usually hosts an event every weekend.
In downtown, Chattanooga’s largest venue is Finley Stadium, which seats 22,000 people. The stadium is home to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s football and soccer teams. Adjacent to Finley Stadium is the First Tennessee Pavilion, an open-air 50,000-square-foot covered pavilion that can be used for events of up to 4,000 people. The finish line of the Erlanger Chattanooga Marathon (the inaugural community-wide event took place just this March) was between Finley Stadium and the First Tennessee Pavilion. Another nearby facility is the Jim Frost Stadium at Warner Park, which offers 3,000 seats. The 6,500-seat AT&T Field is home to the Chattanooga Lookouts, a Minor League Baseball team that is the Double-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The team store recently reopened following an expansion and renovation, just in time for the start of the Lookouts’ 2016 season. Currently, plans are in the works for expanding the field’s protective netting.
Keeping in tune with the city’s musical notoriety, visitors can book a stay at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel. As the song goes, “There’s gonna be a certain party at the station” and a party recently took place at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, which hosted an all-day celebration on May 7 to commemorate the song’s anniversary. Festivities included live music, a parade and a dedication of the hotel’s rose complex, which was renamed Glenn Miller Gardens. Offering 265 guest rooms and 15,000 square feet of event space, the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel is currently undergoing a $20 million renovation. Plans are moving full steam ahead and the update is expected to be complete later this year.
Chattanooga has carved out a name for itself in the sports tourism industry as an attractive mid-sized market, and it’s proud of the advantages it has over larger markets. As a host city, Chattanooga has much to offer, including “space, resources and expertise,” said Tim Morgan, president of the Chattanooga Sports Committee. After touring all of the city’s sporting venues and experiencing the popular—not to mention natural—attractions during my visit, I would have to agree.