Developer plans $50M mega sports complex in Knox County

Knox County developer Steve Maddox has been buying up property off Interstate 40 at Watt Road near the Loudon County line in west Knox County for years, and he’s ready to get to work. Starting this spring, Maddox will begin constructing a multimillion-dollar sports complex unlike any other in the region, a game-changing setup that will make Knoxville a go-to place for youth sports.

The currently unnamed complex will feature 12 turfed fields, indoor arenas, half a dozen or more hotels, restaurants, retail stores and hundreds of apartment units, all privately funded.

“What we were looking for is a theme. We could’ve done a bunch of one-off things and put a hotel in here or one or two restaurants, that kind of thing,” Maddox, president of Maddox Companies, told Knox News. “But what we were wanting was a theme for the entire development.”

The sports complex itself will cost roughly $50 million. Maddox declined to list potential investors in the project, but he said it included both active and retired professional athletes.

Maddox said he already has commitments from a hotelier that wants the first five hotel spots and has a commitment from an apartment developer for 300 units with another 300 more units possible.

“Everything is going in the direction of entertainment with hotels and restaurants and bars and fun things to do,” Maddox said.

What in the wide world of sports?

Watt Road is the last exit on I-40 before the I-75/40 split if you’re headed west. Maddox owns the entire hill on your right, more or less, across the interstate from the TA Truck Service lot.

The property is tiered, which you can clearly see with large signs on each level. Each level has enough space for hotels and full-length turfed fields.

Maddox originally planned for an outlet shopping of some kind in the mid-2000s, but the Great Recession and changing trends (shopping outlets are no longer hot) changed his mind.

In 2017-18, the county commissioned a sports facility feasibility study that found the county doesn’t have “sufficient fields, diamonds and courts to satisfy local needs, let alone those from sports tourism.”

If one was built and built well, the study said, the county could see an economic impact of $32.3 million annually. Last month, the Knox County Commission approved the final zoning hurdle for the project.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs supports the project and said the study the county commissioned showed it was behind Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities. “This is an opportunity for us to get into the game when it comes to both sports tourism and our own recreational facilities for the citizens of Knox County,” he said in a statement.

Visit Knoxville President Kim Bumpus said the park would be huge for the county. Teams already come from across the country, and the park’s location and size and proximity to amenities for families would be a boon, she said.

“You’re competing against every sports park in the country,” she said. “Because at the end of the day the promoter can be driven by the teams they want to recruit to be there and their home base, but they’re looking for the best fit for the most teams to attend.”

Maddox said an appeal of youth sports is its ability to be recession resistant – parents want their kids to play regardless. He called the complex a tourist destination and said it would draw from the entire Southeast and mid-Atlantic, and all the way up to Indiana and Illinois.

The project will require $15 to 20 million in financial assistance from the county, likely in the form of a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) or TIF (tax increment financing). The public dollars would be used for public utilities and infrastructure to expand Everett and Buttermilk Roads. Knox County Engineering and Public Works Director Jim Snowden said expanding the interchange, particularly widening the Watt Road bridge over I-40, has long been a priority of the county. Both Maddox’s planned development and a growing Hardin Valley have put an extra emphasis on it, he said.

That type of construction, though, would require state and federal backing, likely to the tune of $30-plus million, he said, though the county’s portion of the costs would be small. Snowden said he hopes to get the plans on the State Transportation Improvement Plan in the next four or five years to get it paid for.

It could take up to 10 years for the complex to take shape as Maddox envisions it, but he said he’d like to have the fields functioning by 2022.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Tyler Whetstone

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Published October 21, 2020