‘It’s about enriching the lives of all Knoxvillians’: GEM Development president talks about vision for stadium project downtown

Top Stories

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Planning continues for a downtown stadium complex, although the proposal has not yet been approved by city and county leaders.

If it gets the green light, the estimated $65 million sports complex would be publicly owned and financed, then leased by Boyd Sports to become the new home of the Tennessee Smokies. It could also house Knox Pro Soccer, as well as other community events including concerts, festivals, and farmers markets.

GEM Community Development Group has pledged to bring more than $100 million in private development around the stadium, including new housing and retail space.

On Thursday, GEM announced commitments to ensure an inclusive project with tangible benefits for Black families in East Knoxville.

Some of those commitments include hiring at least 15% minority and women-owned firms for contracting and subcontracting, identifying and training minority entrepreneurs, recruiting a diverse workforce, and offering some existing business owners space at the site at below-market-rate prices.

The development company has also formed a committee to help capture local African American history within the site, including their contributions to baseball.

GEM President Stephen Davis explained the project has embraced diversity since its inception. In fact, the name “GEM” originates from the GEM theater, which he described as a social and political center for the Black community during the turn of the 20th century.

(Courtesy: Beck Cultural Exchange Center)

Davis noted the project won’t be a silver bullet, but he does believe the estimated 3,000 jobs created could help reverse the number of people living at or below the poverty line.

“If we can find good jobs, that are paying 15 bucks an hour, with health care, and possibly retirement benefits, that can be life-changing,” he said.

While the plan has not been approved, he said they’re meeting regularly with stakeholders in East Knoxville to ensure their commitments are realized.

Affordable housing opportunities are not currently part of their commitments, but Davis said that does not mean they’re not willing to look into it.

Davis also said it will take everyone to ensure the project reaches its full potential.

“The opportunity will be created…I want to make sure that we get the word out that people are ready, willing, and able to come and take advantage,” he said. “Not only just brick masons and people that can do construction work but after the project is done, whether it’s a cleaning service, whether it’s a concessionaire. I want this to be a long, sustainable, investment in our community. That’s my goal.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

WATE 6 On Your Side Twitter