Sports authority meets for first time, discuss potential stadium project timeline and price tag

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The newly-formed joint city-county sports authority met for the first time Thursday morning. The seven are ultimately responsible for signing off on any development plans, lease agreements, and financing arrangements before final approval by city and county leaders.

The meeting was primarily organizational, meant to layout to purpose and scope of the appointed board, but it was also informational.

Three officers were elected: Alvin Nance as chair, Nikitia Thompson as vice chair, and Richard Bass as secretary/treasurer.

Thompson is hopeful, together, they can work to benefit the community and bring baseball back to Knoxville.

“I think it’s going to be challenging, but exciting. We’re coming together with very diverse backgrounds for the good of the community and I think that’s where we’re heading. I’m excited,” Thomson said.

Thompson also expressed excitement that Tennessee Smokies owner, Randy Boyd, has already partnered with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Knoxville Area Urban League to ensure a diverse workforce and the East Knoxville Community is including in the planning for the project.

Right now, the estimated cost for the sports complex is $65 million. Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell estimated annual payments for that debt at $4 million; however, that amount dropped after Governor Bill Lee included $13.5 million in his budget for the sports authority.

The legislature recently passed a sales tax capture bill, allowing any revenue earned inside the stadium to go toward the debt for 30 years, which would also impact the debt payment. Boyd Sports could be paying as much as $1 million a year to lease the complex.

Lastly, new sales tax revenue from the development surrounding the stadium would also lower the bill. Anything left over, Caldwell explained, would be split between the city and county.

Public Finance Attorney Mark Mamantov said the cost to the city and county will likely be less than 1% of their current annual debt service, given the amount of new revenue the project would creat. In fact, he thinks within a few years, it could pay for itself.

“Not only do we have an owner who wants to bring his team here to Knoxville, but he wants to supplement that a large amount of private development around it. That’s pretty unusual,” Mamantov said; he also emphasized Thursday funding for the debt cannot come from property taxes, but rather must be paid from revenue outside property, so rates would not be raised as a result of the downtown investment.

Next, the proposal will undergo an economic impact study, set to take nine to 12 weeks. The firm will explore the impact on the city and county.

Stephanie Welch, Chief Economic and Community Development Officer and Deputy to the Mayor, said she aims to have agreements on development, leasing, and financing, completed for approval by late summer, early fall.

Welch also noted the timeline is complex, given the actions needed relating to zoning, easements, variances, rights of way, and other public infrastructure. Welch hopes to offer a more definitive timeline next month.

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