Smokies baseball stadium complex is economic homerun for East Knoxville

Just off Interstate 40 in a prominent and visible area of downtown Knoxville’s historic Old City there is a site that has been blighted and underdeveloped for decades.

While the world around it has developed and grown, it remains more like a picture of a  1970s industrial park than a true representation of our economically thriving community. There is no development, no jobs and no tax base at the vacant site today.

Thanks to the vision of University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Commission, Knoxville City Council, your Knox County legislative delegation and other community leaders, we are on the verge of a once-in-a-lifetime revitalization project for East Knoxville.

As the owner of the Tennessee Smokies, Boyd spent several years working with community leaders to relocate the team to Knoxville as a tenant of a new sports and entertainment complex to be located at the blighted site near I-40. The concerns and questions of many, myself included, are: What will a sports and entertainment complex cost the taxpayer? How is it going to benefit the entire community? What is the return on investment?

Legislation on plan sponsored

After a thorough review of the details of the project, I realized this is an opportunity that will transform our community and must be pursued. I agreed to join state Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, in sponsoring legislation that will enable our local elected leaders to have the final vote on an economic development plan to help make the sports complex a reality.

The industrial area and prospective entertainment and sports complex site will be provided to the newly formed sports authority at no additional cost to the taxpayer. This land is valued between $6-8 million and is owned by the Smokies. The estimated cost of the facility is $65 million. The Smokies will be the primary tenant, paying an annual lease of approximately $1 million for 70 nights a year. The venue will host an additional 200 events a year, including concerts and other forms of entertainment. It will be a community venue, owned by the community.

Private investors have committed to spending approximately $140 million to develop the surrounding area, creating a scene similar to Wrigleyville, which surrounds the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field.

The development will include hotels, residences, restaurants and retail shops and will create more than 3,000 jobs. The projected economic impact is more than $100 million.

The legislation Massey and I are carrying simply allows the newly created Knoxville/Knox County Sports Authority to retain the tax revenue from all events held at the stadium. Additionally, the legislation provides our community with an advance on the tax revenue that will be generated from the private development around the stadium.

Complex won't lead to higher taxes

The building of this facility will not result in higher taxes for the taxpayers. Tax revenue generated by the surrounding development and the complex, along with rent from Boyd Sports, will be the primary source of funds to pay for the stadium. Those visiting the sports and entertainment complex will be those paying for the stadium. Additionally, all tax revenue generated by events at the stadium must go to pay off the debt, and once paid in full, the revenue will revert to state and local entities.

West Town Mall and Turkey Creek have arguably been the most important economic drivers for Knox County in the last 40 years. It is East Knoxville’s turn, and Smokeyville Knoxville will be the catalyst our community needs coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic to bring economic growth, jobs and further prosperity. It will create a positive impact far beyond Knox County. I look forward to opening day!

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Jason Zachary

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit


Published May 7, 2021