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Construction market instability prompts developers to take 'step back,' re-work downtown stadium project design

Doug Kirchhofer, CEO of the Tennessee Smokies, said developers need more detailed drawings before they can put the project out for bid.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Developers of the downtown stadium project have taken a "step back" because of construction costs and inflation, Tennessee Smokies CEO Doug Kirchhofer said Tuesday at the Sports Authority meeting. 

Kirchhofer told authority board members developers created conceptual drawings to put the project out for bid, a pre-pandemic norm, but now he said those designs are not detailed enough for a fair estimate of what the multimillion-dollar project will truly cost. 

He told members of the Knoxville Knox County Sports Authority, the board tasked with overseeing the project, that developers are working on more complete drawings to put the project out for bid. 

Once that's finished, Kirchhofer said developers will ask construction companies to bid on a guaranteed max contract. He said he expects to have completed drawings for bids in October or November, and a guaranteed max contract by early 2023. 

The ballclub hopes to use the stadium for baseball in 2025. The project envisions more than 7,000 seats in an outdoor venue that could host concerts, community events and soccer games, among other uses.

In November, both the Knoxville City Council and the Knox County Commission voted on an interlocal agreement, which would give the Sports Authority permission to issue $65 million in bonds, or debt to build the stadium. The state of Tennessee is contributing $13.5 million toward the project. 

In their proposal to the City Council and the County Commission in November, developers said they planned to use about $74 million in public funding for the project. 

However, all parties involved are now bracing for a gap in funding because of rising material costs and higher interest rates. 

RELATED: Negotiators trying to decide who will pay for possible funding gap of downtown Knoxville stadium project

When asked on Tuesday, Kirchhofer would not comment on a possible funding gap or whether Smokies owner Randy Boyd would cover the gap. 

Two City Council members, Seema Singh and Amelia Parker, attended the meeting after reports of the possible funding gap. Both said they would like for the developer to cover any gap. 

The Sports Authority approved draft lease and development agreements in February. Negotiators have not agreed on completed lease and development agreements. 

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