KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The stadium proposal for the Old City rounded two bases Wednesday; however, it faces a couple major tests next week.
The City/County Sports Authority Board voted Wednesday morning to approve an interlocal agreement with the city of Knoxville and Knox County. Knox County Commission will vote on the agreement Monday and Knoxville City Council is set to weigh-in Tuesday.
Stephanie Welch, chief of economic and community development for the city, said if the agreement passes commission and council next week, it will enable the sports authority to continue moving forward.
“Monday and Tuesday’s vote will signify to our community that we are moving forward, realizing that there are still steps we’re going to have to go through to get the stadium to the point of being constructed, but we’re committed to go through those steps,” Welch said.
Paying for a stadium
The agreement gives the sports authority the power to issue bonds for the stadium, city and county leaders would still have to approve certain incentives to ensure the private development surrounding the stadium.
Public Finance attorney Mark Mamantov told the board Wednesday estimates for that private development investment have reached $120 million, up from the original $100 million.
The private development would serve as a revenue source for paying down the stadium debt. Other sources include sales tax revenue generated from inside the stadium. It also includes non-property tax revenue from the private development surrounding the stadium. Another source is the $1 million annual lease payment from Boyd Sports.
Later Wednesday afternoon, the Knoxville/Knox County Planning Commission also unanimously approved on a second reading a planned development application for the site. The application creates an overlay that permits the multiuse stadium. That zoning change is still dependent on the approval of commission and council.
Community benefits agreement
Sam Brown, Knoxville NAACP president, addressed the board after the vote to encourage members to support a community benefits agreement.
“In dealing with government contracts and this type of development, good faith effort and verbal promises are fine,” Brown said. “but written commitments, we think, guarantee the realization of these promised made by the contractors, by all the stakeholders, to the community, where the stadium is going to be located, so that they will also benefit from this project as well,” Brown said.
Brown also indicated he’d like to see the percentage of disadvantaged business enterprises – which are made up of minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses – involved in the project be raised to 20%.
“We want to make sure that the opportunities are there and that it’s written in stone something that’s legally binding and will give this community hope even well after the stadium is built,” he said.
Welch noted all parties involved in the planning of the project so far have been “very intentional” about ensuring the benefits of the project outweigh the costs, but noted there are limits to what government entities can legally guarantee. Both the development and lease agreement list specific goals, such as engaging disadvantaged business enterprises, respecting the history of the community and the cultural context of the neighborhood, as well as offering internship opportunities for young people.
“That is a very specific term,” said Welch of community benefits agreements. “That would be an agreement between private parties. Those are not conversations, as a government official, that I’m party to, nor would the city, the county, or sports authority be party to those agreements.”
Sports Authority Board Vice Chair Nakitia Thompson expressed a desire to see the 15% benchmark raised to 20%. She also expressed an interest in seeing hard commitments from the developer, rather than in good faith statements. Thompson also requested reports on disadvantages business enterprises involvement be distributed more frequently, and that the full board meet monthly, rather than a committee meeting quarterly to discuss the progress of the benchmarks.
The sports authority is scheduled to meet again sometime in December to hold a workshop on the other major documents, the development agreement and the lease agreement. The sports authority could approve them on Jan. 25, given city and county leaders approve the other necessary steps.