Stadium discussion still in first inning; acclaimed sports writer shares impact of a Smokies return

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It may only be the first inning for discussions surrounding a baseball stadium downtown, but a bill in Nashville could help ease hesitations among local leaders.

Last August, Tennessee Smokies owner and president of the University of Tennessee System, Randy Boyd proposed plans for a massive mixed-use development concept that included a new stadium. It includes Boyd donating the land and bringing his team back to Knoxville. It also includes a $65 million proposed commitment from the public sector.

The Knox County Commission and Knoxville City Council have both agreed to move forward with creating a sports authority, made up of citizens, that would oversee the development of a stadium. Both bodies have emphasized there have been no agreements or commitments beyond forming the authority.

The Double-A Smokies moved to Kodak in 2000.

The proposal also includes plans for more than $100 million in private development including retail, residential, and restaurant space. The stadium concept is also multi-use, to include community activities, concerts, farmers market, and perhaps soccer. The stadium would also be owned by the authority and leased to the team.

Boyd projected April 2023 for a first Knoxville home game “if everything goes according to plan.”
State Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-TN District 6) filed a sales tax capture bill in Nashville that, if signed into law, would allow local governments in counties with populations greater than 400,000 to keep some of the state sales tax collected within a quarter-mile around a stadium.

This is one tool, Massey explained, the county and city could utilize to recoup some of their investment, if they make one. It would be a temporary reduction in collection and would only be applicable if local leaders decide to move forward.

If a stadium is built, this capture zone would would run roughly from the east edge of the Old City through much of the area by Hall of Fame Drive east to First Creek.

Massey believes the project would spur long-term economic growth in an area that doesn’t currently generate much revenue. If the bill passes, the sports authority would receive any sales taxes above the amount generated within that radius as of 2020.

Massey also shared memories of “causing havoc” as a child at Smokies games and said “I was sad when it left Knoxville and am really looking forward to it returning.”

Many East Tennesseans know Maria Cornelias and her love for basketball. She’s an accomplished sports writer, author, and livelong sports fan; however, while she knows the court, she’s passionate about the field.

“Baseball is my love,” Cornelias said. “I have loved it since I was a little kid and played it outside with my brother and his friends. They let me play because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to play baseball.”

Her love of the game led to her becoming a loyal Smokies fan. She followed them to Kodak in 2000 and now hopes to follow them back to Knoxville.

“Knoxville deserves a baseball team. Baseball started here in 1921 with the Knoxville Pioneers. It is time to bring baseball back,” she added.

If you want to follow the project, you can sign up for a newsletter at grandslamknox.com. You can also follow the debate on social media.

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