If you build it, will they come to downtown Dalton?

That question is probably dancing around the minds of city officials, downtown backers and private investors as they seek innovative ways to pull shoppers away from Chattanooga, off Walnut Avenue and into downtown.

During a town hall meeting sponsored by the Downtown Dalton Development Authority last week, residents floated scores of ideas on how to improve the downtown business district. Encourage outdoor dining, improve parking, spruce up storefronts and increase non-retail business, they said.

On the more ambitious side, a gentleman suggested creating one centralized attraction that would serve as downtown’s focal point. Metaphorically speaking, it would be Dalton’s “aquarium.”

Some thought the renovated Wink Theatre would be that anchor, while others hold hope the freight depot on Morris Street can be transformed into a history museum or welcome center. Several attendees — from young to old — voiced concern over the city’s lack of entertainment options.

Having grown up in Dalton, the fact there was little to do here was always good for a cheap laugh.

“What’s the only thing to do in Dalton?”

“Go to Chattanooga.”

Now, as an adult living in Dalton, I find that punch line still holds up.

That perception would change with the addition of a minor league baseball team, smack in the heart of downtown. Sounds crazy, right? Just look 45 minutes southwest for a success story, where America’s pastime has helped reinvigorate downtown Rome.

The Rome community — with a population of approximately 35,000, it’s comparable to Dalton’s 28,000 residents — was able to lure the Atlanta Braves’ Class “A” minor league affiliate from Macon.

The Rome Braves, entering the team’s fourth season, had overall attendance of 250,000 last year, created jobs and brought in tax revenue. Mike Pennington, economic development director for the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce, said he didn’t know the team’s total economic impact but said it has “been a tremendous boost for the city.”

From April to September, Dalton’s team would be an economic engine — in addition to the floorcovering industry — that would bring visitors, and more importantly, their money to downtown. Talk about economic diversification.

Dalton does have a baseball tradition.

Former Major Leaguer Harry “Suitcase” Simpson is buried in West Hill Cemetery while area natives Mitchell Boggs and Rhett Parrott are among those playing professionally. Hispanics have a passion for baseball (and several local leagues), while other residents are crazy about softball.

Let’s tackle some of the tough questions.

• Where to put the stadium? Wedge it in between City Hall and the Whitfield County Courthouse, where the county board of elections, an accountant’s office, Krystal and Dalton Green currently sit. Or how about directly across from The Daily Citizen, on the land among Central Park and Alliance National Bank.

• Where to park? The expansive parking deck next to the courthouse is a slam dunk. Well, it’s a home run.

• Where to eat before the game? Imagine the pizza joints, burger places and other restaurants that would want to be downtown.

• A team name? The Carpet Capital Creelers, The Carpet Capital Chenilles or The Dalton Locomotives — complete with a furry, lovable mascot named “Loco” to appeal to the Hispanic community.

• A stadium name? Let a local floorcovering company fork over cash to sponsor it. Bob Shaw Stadium, anybody? The head of Dalton-based Shaw Industries has already invested in downtown by renovating the old City Hall on Pentz Street.

• And the big question: Where would the money come from? A $15 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax paid for State Mutual Stadium in Rome, making the structure debt-free by opening day in 2003, Pennington said. How receptive would Whitfield County residents be to another SPLOST, which was soundly defeated last November?

Wooing a minor league baseball team to Dalton would be a community-wide effort that would bring a windfall to downtown and beyond.

But if you built it, would they come to downtown Dalton?

Ask Rome.

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