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Knoxville City Council votes 5-1 to give final blessing on downtown stadium agreement, 2 members abstain

The goal is to start construction of the stadium next year and have it ready for minor league baseball in spring 2024.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that the council voted 7-1 to approve the stadium agreement. That vote was for an agreement with the United Way to provide funds for community projects.

UPDATE (Nov. 16, 2021): Taking one more in the myriad of steps needed to ensure the project goes forward the Sports Authority, Knoxville City Council and Knox County Commission have approved a formal pact that commits them to jointly financing the creation of a downtown stadium.

Knoxville City Council voted 5-1 in favor of the agreement. Councilwoman Parker voted against the agreement, while Councilmembers Singh and Thomas abstained from voting.

Thomas said he wanted to wait longer for a community agreement and so stakeholders, including the community, could speak about the proposal. However, a motion to postpone the vote failed 5-3. 

Knox County commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to enter into an "interlocal agreement" that would allow the Sports Authority to issue $65 million in bonds to finance the stadium.

Negotiators presented a draft development and lease agreement at a workshop last Monday. In the plans, developers plan to use $74.3 million in public funds to build the stadium. The State of Tennessee will chip in $13.5 million towards the project. The Sports Authority expects to issue bonds worth $65 million-- debt to finance the project. 

In the agreements, Boyd Sports, the owner of the Tennessee Smokies, would agree to sign a 30-year lease, in which they would pay $1 million in rent each year. About $750,000 in property tax from the stadium and the development around it will go towards paying off the debt. 

City and county finance officials expect about $240,000 a year in city and county revenue to go towards paying for the stadium for the next ten years. 

"Paying off the debt for building the stadium will cost $240,000 a year to the people of the City of Knoxville," said Mayor Indya Kincannon. "This is less than the amount we pay to maintain one of our municipal golf courses."

Knox County Commissioner Dasha Lundy said she was hesitant but agreed the stadium would benefit East Knoxville. 

"I had to ask myself, do you want to participate? Do you want to be a wealth builder?" said Lundy.

She said she wants three Black multi-millionaires to come out of this deal. 

"We have to get out of our own way and stop creating this distrust, and move forward," Lundy said. 

Stephanie Welch, a deputy to Mayor Indya Kincannon and a prime staff participant in the project, told Sports Authority board members Wednesday the agreement commits all parties to move forward.

Other documents also must be approved -- including a development agreement -the include the estimated $75 million stadium east of the Old City below the James White Parkway.

Separately Wednesday, Knoxville Knox County Planning was set to approve a mixed-use planned development for the site, which includes land on or near Jackson Avenue and Patton and Florida streets.

Credit: Knoxville Knox County Planning
Mixed land use map for downtown stadium project.

The council and commission met Monday night in a workshop to discuss the project, one of the biggest public buildings proposed in the last 20 years locally.

Developer and entrepreneur Randy Boyd owns the Smokies, bought the land for a new stadium and is proposing private commercial and residential development around the project in conjunction with the stadium. The Smokies now play in Sevier County.

Construction now is expected to start next year in time for baseball in spring 2024. Other sports teams could use it including an area soccer team, and the building could host concerts and community events.

The Sports Authority would own the stadium and lease it to tenants.

Welch said the authority will obtain the stadium site in a warranty deed from Boyd once all parties involved are locked into agreements to build it. So long as it's used for sports purposes, it will remain in public hands.

Attorney Mark Mamantov, bond counsel and project adviser, told Sports Authority board members Wednesday that if the city and county decided not to use the site for sports it would revert to Boyd.

The Sports Authority is expected to meet in an information workshop in December or January.