KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The city has received a $1.6 million gift from GEM Community Development Group, a construction company that has pledged to bring more than $100 million in private development to a proposed downtown Knoxville stadium project, to renovate an East Knoxville sports park.
The $1.6 million gift includes $1.1 million in renovations of Claude Walker Park, a sports park utilized by Austin-East Magnet High School sports programs as well as community groups such as Knox Area Youth Alliance and Baby Roadrunners football. Renovations will include two state-of-the-art turf baseball fields, hitting and pitching cages as well as improvements to lights and fencing.
The remaining funds will support youth sports commissions inside the city for items such as uniforms, equipment and additional operational support.
“Today is an exciting day for children in our city,” said Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group. “As a young person who grew up in Knoxville myself, I know firsthand the value these fields have brought over the decades and decades of play.
“After many years of heavy use, the fields are in need of improvement. We believe this investment will help transform them into a world-class facility for our city’s young people.”
The city has committed to streetscape improvements in the area such as improved lighting and other landscaping.
“We are deeply grateful for this historic investment in Claude Walker Park,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “I want to personally thank Steve Davis and GEM Community Development for their generous gift.
“Youth sports are one of the places that young people learn about leadership, make lasting friendships, and connect with mentors. This is an investment that will benefit children and families for years to come.”
Claude Walker Park will remain a city park and continue its existing youth sports program offerings. The renovation project will be managed by Emerald Youth Foundation in partnership with Elite Diversified Construction, a Knoxville-based, minority-owned general contractor.
“In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined someone coming along to invest over $1 million in these fields,” Claude Walker Park manager Willie Anderson said. “Recently, we’ve had games scheduled and other teams from across our city have refused to play here. That is troubling for a number of reasons, but mostly it’s disappointing for our young people who so desperately need an outlet to just play and have fun. Today changes all of that.”
Community recreation programs benefitting from this project include Center City Youth Sports Programs, Central Athletic Youth Association, Holston Chilhowee Recreation Commission, Knoxville Area Youth Alliance, Knoxville Falcons Youth Organization, Mechanicsville Community Athletics Association, South Knoxville Youth Sports and Emerald Youth Foundation.
GEM Community Development Group has pledged to bring more than $100 million in private development around the proposed stadium in Knoxville’s Old City. The group also pledged to hire at least 15% minority and women-owned firms for contracting and subcontracting if the project is approved. They have also pledged to identify and train minority entrepreneurs and offer some existing local business owners space at the site at below-market-rate prices.