KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Add a soccer league team to the mix of those who'd be interested in playing at a proposed downtown Knoxville sports stadium.
Tennessee Smokies owner Randy Boyd will hold talks with a local United Soccer League team for possible use of the facility east of the Old City if it's built, Boyd Sports LLC said in a release Tuesday.
Boyd already has said he'd like his Double A team to move from Sevier County so it can play in Knoxville. Demolition crews are finishing tearing down unused buildings at the proposed stadium site near Willow Avenue and Patton Street.
Knox Pro Soccer knows about the proposed project and could be a potential user, according to comments by Drew McKenna, a founder of the group, in Tuesday's release.
The group is interested in how the sports park could work in appealing to sports besides baseball, McKenna said in prepared comments.
Plans remain on track for construction to start in the fall, but the project is complex and has many working parts, said Chris Caldwell, county finance director, and Stephanie Welch, deputy Knoxville mayor. The pair is leading staff scrutiny and preparation of the proposed stadium.
Welch said plans for the public part of the project -- the stadium itself -- must be integrated with private development plans. Boyd wants to build commercial and residential buildings around and close to the stadium, and he hopes it'll all go up simultaneous to the sports park.
"So our goal is later this year to be able to bring a development agreement, a lease agreement, a very firm financing plan to our elected bodies, along with what's called an interlocal agreement," said Welch. "It would authorize the Sports Authority Board to act on behalf of the city and the county to really officially launch the project."
Boyd reiterated Tuesday his interest in the stadium being used for more than just baseball. It would be built with the idea of multiple uses, including concerts, other sports and even community functions, planners have said.
Boyd bought the site where the stadium would go. He hopes it can be ready for his team to play in by spring 2023.
The approximately $65 million project would be paid through a combination of resources including team lease payments, sales tax collected on-site, perhaps a PILOT financing plan and $13.5 million budgeted this spring by Gov. Bill Lee.
Bonds would be issued to cover construction, and revenue sources would go to pay off the debt created by the bonds.
A newly formed sports authority will oversee the project.
It's expected that the new, seven-member sports authority will hold its first meeting in the coming weeks.
Boyd has assembled an investment group that plans some $142 million in private development including commercial, retail and residential.
Architectural firm Populous of Kansas City, which specializes in sports arenas and event spaces, has been doing design work for the proposed project. Plans have not been submitted to local government.
Caldwell and Welch said those blueprints need to be finalized with help from community input meetings, which should be held later this summer.
While the project has drawn political support from the city and county mayors and some Knox County Commission and Knoxville City Council members, some question the need for it and its overall merits.
The Knoxville Chamber board also has endorsed it, and now we know a soccer team wants to play there, too.
USL has three leagues in North America: Championship, League One and League Two. It has various divisions and conferences with teams that play throughout the United States.
The Knoxville team plans to start playing next year, according to Tuesday's announcement.