Company to build downtown sports complex for urban kids

An East Tennessee company is using their hearts rather than their pocketbooks to develop a prime piece of downtown real estate.

Monday, H.T. Hackney and the Sansom family announced they are turning 14 acres into a sports complex to serve young people in the inner city.

The facility will be located where H.T. Hackney's former warehouse sat for decades off of Dale Avenue to the north and 17th street on the west. It's a few blocks from World's Fair Park and can be seen from I-40 and I-275.

H.T. Hackney, one of the largest wholesale grocery distributors in the country, is donating the land and building the facility. The Emerald Youth Foundation will operate it. The non-profit already serves many of these kids through sports, education, and faith, but do not have their own fields.

"We are overjoyed. This complex will provide an environment where Emerald Youth can minister to urban young people through sports," said Steve Diggs, executive director of Emerald Youth. "This will greatly increase their opportunities to participate in physical activities. Urban kids are often left out of sports because they don't have a place to play or resources to pay expensive fees."

Starting this spring, they will use the state of the art facility for soccer, lacrosse, flag football, and performance training. This comes in addition to basketball, baseball, volleyball, and swimming teams they currently have.

The Emerald Youth Foundation sees success through sports every day in the more than a thousand inner-city kids they serve. Now they hope a new facility will help them reach even more.

"We have about 100 kids participating in soccer right now. It will grow five times once the facility opens," said Emerald Youth's sports director, Dwayne Sanders.

This a vision brought to life by the H.T. Hackney's CEO Bill Sansom.

"We tend to take our urban properties and we put buildings on them and parking lots and we run the play areas off," Sansom said. "Then we wonder why our kids are having trouble."

"Not only are they forgoing the money they could have made on this property, but they're investing about $6 million in these fields. So it's an unbelievable private donation to help our kids," said Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.

The complex will feature three fields with synthetic turf. It will also be home to a 5,000 square foot field house with a training center.

With work already underway, kids will be able to play there as soon as this upcoming spring. The first field, pavilion and field house should open by spring 2014, and the last two fields should be completed by summer 2015.

About 300 Emerald Youth Foundation after-school kids will also be able to use the facility.

Mayor Rogero plans to ask the city council for street and sidewalk improvements for the surrounding area.

Emerald Youth said a preliminary study for use of the facility has outlined plans for a range of non-traditional sports, with soccer as the centerpiece. Plans include: recreational soccer for ages 5-adult; competitive soccer teams that could play local club teams; a winter futsal (indoor soccer) league for boys, girls and young adults; and helping establish boys' and girls' soccer teams at inner city middle schools and supporting inner city high school teams where desired. Emerald Youth also plans to start lacrosse teams and offer flag football for older youth.


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