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Community leaders react to proposed downtown stadium

Representatives from two nearby neighborhoods said they are excited about the downtown stadiums, but also shared their concerns.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Developers plan to build a downtown stadium in an industrial area, with few neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity. 

But in East Knoxville, there are two neighborhoods within a 5 minute drive of the proposed stadium site: The Austin Homes community and the Parkridge community. 

"I'm actually glad that it's coming," said Kanika White, a real estate agent who lives in the Parkridge community. "I think it's necessary." 

White said she thinks the stadium would revitalize that part of the Old City. 

"For lack of a better word, it's dead in the area," White said. "It's the right type of development to spur the economy, bring new business and generate money." 

However, White said she is concerned about gentrification.

"It's really important that we, as a community ... think about ways on how we can mitigate gentrification," said White. 

SaRhonda Thompson is the former president of the Austin East community, currently under re-development. 

"Initially, I thought it was a great idea," Thompson said. "Why not? A baseball stadium close to the neighborhood." 

Thompson said the history of that area of the Old City concerns her. She said she thinks about her grandmother, who was part of the Knoxville Urban Renewal. 

The Beck Cultural Exchange Center said 2,500 Knoxville families were pushed out of the Old City during Urban Renewal, and the majority of them were Black. 

"That was eminent domain by the city," said Thompson. "My grandmama died without any property." 

Thompson said she is not against the area's re-development, but she wants the community to be involved. 

"As long as the community is involved in it, and they have to actively want to be involved," Thompson said. 

Thompson said she wants a Community Benefits Agreement to be formalized. 

In a statement, GEM Development said they are working with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center regarding the Urban Renewal to "incorporate elements of the area's history and culture into the development."

The developers said they are working with the Knoxville Urban League to make sure local disadvantaged businesses and minority contractors are "included in constructing the stadium and surrounding property."

Regarding concerns about gentrification, the developers said the proposed site for the stadium is "in a blighted area where no one currently lives."

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