Batter up: Baseball is coming back to town

The News Sentinel started its stadium story with this sentence: The Tennessee Smokies are coming home to Knoxville.

This longtime baseball fan will add: It’s about time. Minor League Baseball left Knoxville in 1999 because city and county leadership and the ownership at the time couldn’t reach an agreement on a location. The Smokies departed for Sevier County and have played in Kodak since the 2000 season.

In 2024, the Tennessee Smokies, thanks to a new owner and new government leadership, will open the season in a new multi-use stadium in East Knoxville on the edge of the Old City. And it won’t just be baseball. The 7,000-seat stadium will host soccer One Knoxville SC, concerts, farmers markets, community gatherings, corporate retreats, holiday events and more year-round.

Local businessman and philanthropist Randy Boyd spearheaded the effort to bring baseball back to Knoxville. The owner of Boyd Sports, which operates the Tennessee Smokies baseball team, provided the land and then had the site cleared, removing an abandoned meatpacking facility in a blighted area. The surrounding area will now be home to more than $100 million in private development with residential, retail, business and restaurant offerings.

A new SpringHill Suites by Marriott, a five-story hotel with 127 rooms and space for an outdoor pool and fire pits, was on the drawing board (read HERE) if the stadium project was approved. That approval came Nov. 15 from Knox County Commission and Nov. 16 from City Council.

The News Sentinel stories about the votes this week can be read HERE and HERE.

From the City Council vote story: Boyd said all the work up to this point was just spring training. The season — construction, that is — will begin soon. “Now, we just begin to start working,” Boyd said. “We’ve worked this hard just to begin to start working.”

Also from the story: Boyd has already spent millions demolishing former Lay meat packing plant, clearing the land and running testing on the ground where the stadium will be built. The project is months ahead of where typical projects would be once given approval by local governing bodies. Next up will be getting the construction drawings complete, Boyd said.

Knox County Commission unanimously approved the project on an 11-0 vote in less than 10 minutes. Knoxville City Council approved the project on a 5-1 vote with two abstentions and one member out of the country to visit a family member in the military.

The Compass published a play-by-play of the nearly three-hour discussion by City Council that can be read HERE in a story headlined “Safe at Home.”

For baseball and stadium proponents, the reaction was immediate, especially by Grand Slam Knox.

One Knoxville Sporting Club also tweeted its excitement.

After Monday’s vote, Boyd tweeted his thanks to the county.

After Tuesday’s vote, he did the same.

What’s next? Since County Commission and City Council have approved the project, the Sports Authority can now move forward to vote on the development agreement and lease agreement. The construction blueprints and plans also need to be finalized.

But with both approval votes coming this week without postponements, that means heavy equipment will be on-site sooner rather than later and construction can get started.

And in just over two years, shouts of batter up will ring out in Knoxville again.

Maria M. Cornelius, a Tennessee Smokies season ticketholder, lifelong baseball fan and writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael, writes the blog posts for Grand Slam Knox.