It appears almost a certainty that Knoxville will, once again, have a minor league baseball team. While there remains a possibility something could go awry, with both the Knoxville City Council and the Knox County Commission voting to move forward with forming a joint Sports Authority, the chances seem far better than not. I spoke with Doug Kirchhofer, CEO of Boyd Sports, LLC to learn more about the plans.
First, on the formation of a Sports Authority, and why that is such and important step, calling it a “non-committal first step,” he explained that it serves two important purposes. First, it enables the county and city governments to communicate with one voice and forms a dedicated group to getting the project off the ground and keeping it running smoothly. Second, state law allows for the state portion of sales tax generated by the stadium to be paid to the Sports Authority, rather than the state, for payment on the debt taken out to finance the project.
The expanse of the project is quite large. Randy Boyd owns the land which is primarily where the Lays Meatpacking Plant formerly operated. Under the deal, he would donate the land to the city and county and they would build the $65 million stadium, designed to seat 7,100 fans. Boyd also owns surrounding properties and, as part of the agreement, would develop that property by building 630,000 square feet of residential and commercial property, meaning shops, restaurants and apartments would be constructed close to the new stadium. Willow Avenue would end as it approached the stadium and would resume on the other side.
I asked about parking and about the critical juncture between downtown and east Knoxville. Mr. Kirchhofer said a great deal of thought had been given to ensuring that the stadium and adjacent development be a connection between the two and not a barrier. He indicated that the thinking is the project could undo some of the damage done by James White Parkway in terms of bridging that barrier. He mentioned that other cities have taken underpasses like those which would be located by the stadium and through the use of lights and color to make the area appealing, rather than off-putting.
Regarding parking, my concern was not that it would be inadequate, but that an ocean of asphalt would form a dead zone. Mr. Kirchhofer said their studies show a ration of 1 parking place for every three fans in attendance is pretty standard and, as in this case, urban centers need less. Assuming 2,200 spaces needed, he pointed out there are 7,500 spaces already located within 1/2 mile of the stadium and 16,000 located within one mile.
Additionally, fans in urban centers tend to rely more on ride share companies and need fewer spaces as a result. Given these factors, there will be no parking built for the stadium. There will, he pointed out, need to be private parking for residents in the new developments and they anticipate that being under or behind the newly constructed buildings. The buildings are planned to front the streets, with commercial space on the ground level and residential above. The development would potentially include other investors.
The 25 year lease on the stadium in Sevier County ends after 2024, but there are provisions for both renewal and termination. Given the timeline for developing the new stadium, there would be very little overlap. Site work has already begun with environmental studies and abatement of any hazardous materials discovered to precede demolition of all buildings on the site. Mr. Kirchhofer described the buildings as “stout but not safe.”
The timeline would include demolition of the buildings, finalization of the potential agreements and of design and demolition of the buildings all in the first half of 2021. The hope is for construction to start in the second half of 2021 with an aggressive goal of having baseball games in the spring of 2023. Failing that, 2024 seems like an easily obtainable goal. The intention is to have the stadium and the residential/commercial development on a similar timeline. He said the two are seen as mutually important.
They anticipate 70 nights a year of baseball and 200 nights a year with some sort of programming, including concerts, soccer and more. He anticipates setting up a website to give answers to questions and updates on the project over the next two years.