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Knoxville City Council votes to move forward on preliminary plans for downtown stadium

The city council voted 8-1 on the plans, with Amelia Parker in opposition.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With an 8-1 vote on Tuesday, the Knoxville City Council decided to approve a preliminary plan for a new downtown stadium. The resolution would allow for exemptions from certain zoning restrictions and re-zone the industrial area in the Old City for a downtown stadium. 

Amelia Parker was the only member of the City Council to vote in opposition to the plan on Tuesday. The Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plan in early September.

"I didn't feel like we have clear community benefits that warrant the change that was being requested," Parker said.

The development group said in their application that the development would connect East Knoxville to the Old City, revitalize the area and bring additional retail and services to downtown residents.

This was the first city council vote on the stadium since they voted to create the Sports Authority in December. 

The Sports Authority and the development group have not come to a development agreement on the stadium. A timeline shown at a joint workshop between the Knoxville City Council and the Knox County Commission targeted early September for an agreement. Yet, the parties are still negotiating. 

In a proposal presented to the city council and the county commission on August 19, public funds would be used to pay for $74.5 million of the construction, mostly through sales tax revenue and $1 million in annual rent paid by the Tennessee Smokies.

The city and county would service $3.2 million in debt each year. 

Smokies' Owner Randy Boyd pledged to bring more than $100 million in private development to the Old City, to be built concurrently with the stadium. 

City council members also heard from opponents of the plan during Tuesday's meeting.

"Hard-working Tennessee taxpayers ought not to be forced to pay for a ballpark to be used by a multi-millionaire," Gary Loe said to the City Council.

Councilwoman Parker said that she agreed. 

"I absolutely would like for the stadium, if it were to move forward, to move forward without public funding," Parker said. "There have been numerous studies produced and shared with members of city council members and county commission members that clearly outline how other cities and their investments have not resulted in the return that they had hoped."

City councilwoman Seema Singh voted in favor of the preliminary plan for the stadium and said she is in favor of the development. 

"I think it's going to bring in tourism," Singh said. "It gives us a city identity, something to unify around."

Singh also said she wants to see a Community Benefits Agreement that would require developers to hire local construction workers, and impose a wage floor of $15.50 per hour. 

"I know that the developers that are involved with the stadium, that's their intention, and that's wonderful, but we need to have it written down," Singh said.