Firm teams with coalition to ensure East Knoxville, minorities benefit from downtown stadium build

Knoxville Stadium

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — East Knoxville, and specifically Blacks and women, will be an integral part of the proposed downtown stadium’s construction and subsequent development surrounding it according to the private development group behind Boyd Sports.

GEM Community Development Group has formed a formal partnership with the Knoxville Area Urban League, Beck Cultural Exchange Center, local schools and youth organizations to ensure at least 15% of contractors and subcontractors are from minority and women-owned firms. GEM will also establish an apprenticeship program surrounding the project and expand youth opportunities.

“This is a transformational project for East Knoxville, the members of its business and residential communities and specifically the African American community,” said Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group. “I would not be involved in this project if it were just another development opportunity. I am doing it to give something back to my hometown and the people with whom I grew up. This development site will produce tangible benefits and results and reinvigorate an area that has long been in neglect.”

Davis, a successful businessman and former University of Tennessee football player, said the most important benefit for the East Knoxville community is the addition of jobs in the area.

“The average family income in this ZIP code is $17,000 per year,” Davis said. “Supporting more than 3,000 jobs in the area will be the most impactful aspect of the development. The initiative also includes identifying minority entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in the area.”

Details about the agreement between GEM and the community organizations include:

  • At least 15% of the contractors and subcontractors on the project will be classified as “disadvantaged business enterprises” as defined by the city of Knoxville. GEM will also identify minority entrepreneurs who want to open businesses in the development, train people who want to become entrepreneurs, and assist with training and placement of individuals for available jobs.

I want to be sure the Black community specifically benefits from this project.”

Steve Davis, president of GEM Community Development Group
  • Establish an apprenticeship program for people in the community to learn skills to participate in the stadium and development project they can use to better themselves and add to their skillset.
  • Establish a cultural and historical advisory committee led by Rev. Reneé Kesler, president of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The committee is charged with advising the development team on being intentional about capturing African American history and culture of the location of the project, as well as reflecting the multiracial history of baseball in the community.
  • Fund the expansion of youth baseball and softball at Claude Walker Park and Ballfields in East Knoxville.
  • Build a playground at Green Elementary School.
  • Recruit locally owned businesses to open in the commercial development around the stadium. Among them, Jackie’s Dream soul food restaurant has been invited to relocate there at below market rates.
  • Enter a partnership agreement with Pellissippi State Community College to expand the Chicago-based “Tuskegee Next” program which, based on the legacy of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, provides a clear path to aviation careers for at-risk youth. The program is led by Davis.

“Members of the development team have been meeting with key members of the East Knoxville community for more than a year to accumulate input and suggestions,” Davis said. “Community engagement has been a priority for us from the beginning. We met with numerous key players in the community even before the project was announced.”

Stephanie Welch, the city’s chief economic and community development officer and deputy to the mayor, said the city and county continue to gather input from citizens.

“We are continuing to listen to the community, which may result in the identification of additional agreements,” Welch said. “These benefits will be formalized through the development/lease agreements.

Gov. Bill Lee included $13.5 million in his budget proposal to help the newly created sports authority pay for an estimated $65 million public stadium. The budget has now passed. Boyd Sports, led by Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd would lease the stadium.

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