Downtown Knoxville stadium proposal enters second inning after a very good week

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The bases are loaded in the effort to the future of bringing a multi-use sports complex to the Old City.

Governor Bill Lee included $13.5 million in his budget proposal to help the sports authority pay for an estimated $65 million public stadium. The budget has now passed.

Also this week, the legislature approved a measure that would allow tax revenue generated inside the stadium to be kept locally, for up to thirty years, to offset the public investment. It allows the sports authority to capture sales tax from any event, ranging from a baseball game to a family reunion.

Knox County Commission also voted to approve the seven nominees for the joint city/county sports authority, which marked another significant hurdle for the proposal.

Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd said he’s encouraged by the support from the state and the momentum he sees for the project.

The site, situated in Knoxville’s Old City, totals around 14 acres. Boyd plans to give roughly half to the sports authority for a stadium, which Boyd Sports would lease for an estimated $1 million annually, if the plan is approved.

In addition to the public stadium, JEM Development has pledged to build more than $100 million in property surrounding the public venue, including new apartments, retail, and dining spaces.

Many tenants have already been secured, but Boyd also noted they’re taking steps to make sure everyone is included in the economic potential. Last month, JEM announced a partnership with the Knoxville Area Urban League to ensure they recruit minority labor throughout every phase of the site, as well as help encourage minority-owned businesses.

“Construction is going to be two or three years. That’s really short-term,” Boyd said. “The real opportunity is helping businesses from the community be a part of this enterprise. Some businesses that are already in the community might want to expand and have an additional location here. There are also, maybe, some young entrepreneurs…that have an idea…that might fit in the area.”

Multiple uses, next steps

Boyd is excited to bring the Smokies to the Old City, but also emphasized the project is about much more.

As the stadium leaseholder, Boyd said, they would work to bring a soccer team, host baseball tournaments, family reunions, and other community events such as farmers markets. He also said they plan to make the stadium concourses open to the public year-round.

Aside from the economic potential, Boyd sees the project as a cultural and social center.

Next steps include impact studies, more specific cost estimates, and final approval from city or county leaders. They will sign off on any bonds for construction.

While he’d like to see a first pitch take place downtown Spring 2023, Boyd said Thursday that contractors and architects are projecting 2024 due to the size and scope of the project. He hasn’t conceded his timeline at this point.

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